The Art of Being the Imp (Part 2)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
The Art of Being the Imp
New York, Sunday April 8th, 2007
I sat in front of my computer, tapping my nails on my desk and scowling as I read through the list of paintings that had been stolen yesterday. Normally, I didn't begrudge someone else a little success in their heist, but yesterday had definitely been different. First off, those guys had been crude and violent, lacking any style or finesse at all. That offended me as a professional, though most of the time I still would have just shrugged it off as not my business. However, they'd hit the art museum...MY museum. They'd taken nearly two dozen paintings, several of which I myself had donated. That made it personal. The fact that they'd destroyed a masterpiece and had taken Waking at Dawn, my favorite painting, only made it even more so.
Of course, Hexagon and his men had tried to kill me, but I didn't really hold that against them...at least not too much. That kind of thing was just one of the risks of the business I was in, and if I took something like that personally, then I might end up as one of those idiots who spent half their time trying to get revenge on anyone who'd crossed them. As my mentor liked to tell me, revenge wasn't profitable.
Then my thoughts to turned to Alicia, the girl who'd been kidnapped because she tried to stick around and help me out. Stupid kid. What in the world had she been thinking? And Hexagon... Taking hostages was another mark of an amateur...but taking a kid was just low.
I leaned back in my chair, my tail swishing back and forth as I thought about what I was going to do. I was a thief...not a hero. I wasn't responsible for rescuing the hostage or recovering the paintings, and I knew I should just let this go. But I couldn't. He'd taken that girl, who was only there because she was trying to help me. And he'd taken my favorite painting, one that I'd gone through a great deal of effort to steal in the first place.
Then I grinned. "I might not be a hero, but I am an art thief. I'm just going to have to go steal my painting back."
With that, I began calling some of my contacts to get the ball rolling. I'd already used one to get a full list of what had been taken during the robbery, but now I needed to find out where Hexagon was hiding and what kind of security he might have. Most of the time, I came across as reckless and impulsive, but the truth was, I was very good at planning out my heists. Preparation was the hallmark of a professional.
The first thing I did was try to get a copy of the security footage from the museum. I thought that if I could see everything that occurred from the moment Hexagon arrived to the moment he left, it might give me a better idea of what he was really after. However, a few calls revealed that there was no camera footage, that all of it had been completely erased.
"Either he has a few more magic tricks than he showed," I thought aloud, "or he had some kind of hacker helping him out." Since I'd seen him use magic but hadn't seen evidence of anything more high tech than a machine gun, I was bettering it was the former. "I hate dealing with magic."
That particular line of investigation was dead, but I wasn't out of tricks or contacts. In fact, there was one contact who was good at coming through for me, at least once I could get him motivated. Fortunately, he owed me one...a big one from the time I'd saved him from getting murdered.
"Hey Bob," I said, grinning to myself and fighting back the urge to hum the theme from Jeopardy. "You remember that favor you owe me...the diamond necklace I got you for your wife's birthday? Yes. I need a little information on some schmuck called Hexagon... Yeah, the guy from the art heist yesterday. You see, he took a little piece I wanted, so I need to know where to find it..."
Once I was done making my calls, I decided that what I needed next was another look at the crime scene, one where I wasn't having to dodge bullets at the same time. I already had some ideas percolating around in my head, but thought this might be what I needed to help them settle into place.
I got dressed in my working clothes, then grabbed the black motorcycle helmet from the corner where it was sitting. The helmet had been custom made for me, just so it would actually work with my horns. As stylish as they were, they did tend to make it impossible for me to wear most helmets.
My motorcycle was locked up in storage just a short distance from where I lived, having been there since before my little vacation. It was sleek, black, and had been made for me by the Highwayman, a gadgeteer who specialized in motorcycles. It was also my favorite mode of transportation, being fast, maneuverable, and best of all, it didn't trigger any sense of claustrophobia or being trapped. Unfortunately, during my last big heist, something had gone wrong and I ended up having to make a high speed escape on my bike. After that exciting chase, law enforcement and heroes had been on the lookout for my bike, which was why I'd tucked it into a safe hiding place until now.
After I'd retrieved my bike, I climbed on and revved the engine, which made almost no sound at all. I grinned at that, remembering just how many times I'd buzzed unsuspecting people, catching them by surprise as I flew by without warning. The only downside to this bike was that it wasn't very practical for transporting the kind of things I usually stole.
I spent a little time just riding around, making sure that my bike really was working the way it should after such a long rest, and generally just having fun. Eventually though, I ended up back at the art museum, where I parked my bike in an out of the way spot a short distance away. I made the rest of the short trip on foot, using my stealth ability to stay hidden as I broke into the closed museum and began looking around.
Two rooms had been hit, and there were a number of places with blank spots on the wall. I scowled as I looked them over, mentally noting which painting had been in each place, as well as which paintings remained. I let out a sigh of relief as I noticed that another painting that I liked had been spared.
Though I wasn't a detective and had never been trained to investigate crimes, I was very experienced with how crimes were committed and what a skilled thief would do. This particular robbery had definitely been poorly executed, though I'd already known that from the way they burst in with guns blazing and had taken a hostage. However, in addition to that, their selection of stolen paintings truly seemed to be random. They'd stolen a few paintings with very low resale value while leaving behind masterpieces that some private collectors would jump at the chance of owning.
"Amateurs," I muttered in contempt.
Any thief worth the name would have come in with a plan, having done their research and knowing which paintings were the most valuable and which ones they could get away with. The fact that they'd grabbed paintings at random with no indication of having a plan was enough to make me shake my head in disgust. Even if I hadn't been personally involved in this, their sheer incompetence would have been enough to make me want to go after them...for the honor of my profession if nothing else.
Then I froze as something occurred to me. "Red herring..."
About nine years ago, I broke into a museum in Chicago and made a big deal about stealing a Rembrandt. Several members of the Chicago Crusaders chased after me, and though I escaped, they'd managed to get the painting back. Afterwards, the museum and heroes were so busy celebrating the successful recovery, they didn't realize that my partner had used the distraction in order switch out several other paintings with my forgeries. Sometimes the obvious theft was nothing more than a diversion to hide the real target.
I looked over the empty spaces again, realizing that while the targets may have been random, not all of them were. Hexagon may have come for one or two specific pieces and merely used the rest of the thefts to keep anyone from suspecting what he was really after. The question was why? I'd need to think about this a little more.
Once I was done looking over the museum, I made my way up to the roof, simply because I tended to think better when I was high up. Being above it all always made me feel like I had a bit more privacy, and like I was getting some fresh air. Of course, in a crowded city like New York, fresh air was just an illusion, but it was an illusion I could appreciate.
I stood at the edge of the roof and looked out at the scenery, what little there was of it. Mostly, I saw big buildings and traffic, though there was one direction that actually looked rather interesting. In fact, that image just might make for a nice cityscape painting. I was thinking about how I'd go about painting that particular scene when something suddenly hit me from the side and pulled me back. I let out a loud grunt, only to realize that someone had grabbed me from behind and was holding me tight.
"I've got you now, Imp," a familiar voice exclaimed from behind me.
Acting almost completely on reflex, I shifted my PK aura, using a trick that was almost the exact opposite of the one I used to climb walls. Instead of sticking to what I was touching, my aura reduced friction and become incredibly slick, letting me easily slip out of the arms that held me, almost as though I was a greased pig. This particular trick was also great for squeezing through tight spaces, like ventilation shafts. I hit the ground and rolled back from my attacker before I sprang back to my feet.
"Chickenhawk," I exclaimed, staring at the costumed hero who'd ambushed me.
He was dressed in a dark blue and white costume that was mostly a form of tight and lightweight armor that resembled spandex from a distance. He had a dark blue cowl that covered most of his head, including the upper part of his face, leaving only the lower part of his face exposed. And of course, his costume had a symbol on the chest that resembled a bird with the wings spread out.
"That's Superhawk," he snapped in clear annoyance, putting an emphasis on the 'super' part of his name.
I just grinned at my old sparring partner, the hero I'd encountered far more than any other during my career. If I actually had an arch-enemy, it probably would have been him, so I shouldn't have been surprised to run into him. After all, Chickenhawk always had a knack for finding me when I was out on business.
"Come on, it's Easter Sunday," I complained with a sigh. "Can't you give a poor Imp a break?"
"When I heard that you'd robbed the museum," Chickenhawk stated in a grim tone, "I had a feeling that you'd come back sooner or later in order to gloat..."
I made a show of buffing my nails on my uniform, then blowing on them. "Oh, I'm gloating," I told him smugly. "But only at how dumb you are. I didn't rob anything...at least not yesterday."
"This time, you aren't getting away," Chickenhawk exclaimed, though he remained where he was, hesitant to come close enough for me to use my claws on him. "This time I'm taking you in."
"Imp-possible," I exclaimed, giving him a raspberry, which seemed to annoy him.
Chickenhawk formed a ball of blue energy in his hand sent it flying right at me, though I was expecting this move so dove to the side. Getting hit with that wouldn't hurt me, at least not directly, but it would be extremely inconvenient. I've been hit with those things before and had no intention of getting hit again if I could avoid it.
"Neener neener neener," I taunted him, turning around to shake my ass and tail at him.
Chickenhawk was getting even more annoyed, which was exactly what I was aiming for. Whenever I fought him and other heroes, I liked to play up my...eccentricities, intentionally convincing them that I was impulsive and reckless so that they'd underestimate me. So far, my strategy had worked quite well for me, because even after years of dancing, Chickenhawk still wasn't able to predict all my moves.
My flying opponent, on the other hand, had gotten just a little predictable. I've dealt with him enough times to realize that he wasn't really a flying brick like he often pretended. Instead, he was actually some kind of gravity warper...able to manipulate his own gravity so he could fly, and that of anything he touched so he could come off as being stronger than he actually was. Between that and his armor, he was pretty good at distracting people from his real powers. Of course, these balls of warped gravity that he shot at me were a nice giveaway to the true nature of his abilities. If one of those hit me, my gravity would be briefly altered in some way, making me weigh three times what I normally did, fall up into the air, or something else just as inconvenient.
"You're going to pay for this one," Chickenhawk told me, throwing another ball of warped gravity at me. I dove out of the way of that one and then dodged the next.
"Go, ah say, go away boy," I called out in best Foghorn Leghorn voice, which was probably pretty bad. "You bother me."
Chickenhawk snarled, "Do you EVER shut up?"
I just grinned at that and continued with my looney impersonation. "Ah say, boy, you've got an over-abundance of determination, but you're a little short in the noddle department. Brains that is. About as sharp as a bowling ball."
"You do know," he pointed out, almost sounding amused. "In those cartoons, the chickenhawk usually wins..."
"That's your problem right there. You think real life is like a cartoon," I responded, blowing him another raspberry.
So far, Chickenhawk was keeping his distance from me, which was a good thing because even if he didn't really have enhanced strength, things could still get pretty bad if he actually got his hands on me. I was just glad we were on the rooftop where he didn't have a lot of options, since there were times when he'd actually tried hitting me with cars.
I decided that it was time to go on the offense, at least enough to keep him off balance. I reached into my pouch and pulled out several small metal throwing spikes, each of which was about four inches long. Then I focused the energy from my PK aura to my hand, using it to give one of the spikes a boost as I threw it. The spike flew through the air with more force than I would have been able to give it with a normal throw, enough so that when I missed Chickenhawk, it drove halfway into the brick wall behind him.
Chickenhawk hesitated a moment, knowing that his armor could probably protect him from a direct hit with one of my spikes...unless I hit him in one of the weaker spots, and there were plenty of those. That put him on the defensive and kept him from throwing so many of those gravity balls at me.
I tossed another spike, not bothering to put any extra force behind it since I was actually aiming at his chest. I wanted to keep him off balance and away from me, not kill him. After all, I was a thief...not an assassin.
"You know good and well I didn't pull this robbery," I commented almost absently. I buffed my nails again and made a show of not acting concerned, which only made him more cautious. "I mean, those idiots had absolutely no style at all... Not like me..."
"Witnesses say you were there," Chickenhawk pointed, though there was a note of hesitation in his voice. He knew me well enough to know that this robbery wasn't my style, at least now that he was thinking about it.
"Sure," I responded with a broad grin. "I was casing the joint so I could steal a piece...then those jerks jumped the gun and got it before me." I gave an exaggerated shrug, then continued, "I may be imp-pulsive, but I do have my standards."
Chickenhawk seemed to believe that, but said, "Either way, you're going to jail..."
"Are you sure?" I asked with a grin, and then in a sing-song voice I announced, "I have some imp-portant information on the robbery..."
"All the more reason to take you in," he stated, landing on the ground and slowly coming towards me. I saw him trying to form a glowing ball in his hand, while his hands were down and angled so I wasn't supposed to notice. He was going to try hitting me by surprise.
"Ah, but think about what we could do if we worked together," I teased him, knowing full well that he'd never go for that. In fact, there was no way that I'd ever work with that self-righteous goon either, but that wasn't the point of the offer. I just wanted to keep him off balance. "I can steal the painting that they stole from the museum before I could steal it fair and square..." I paused, and then almost as if an afterthought, I added, "And you can go save that hostage girl..."
"This isn't a joke," Chickenhawk snapped. "That girl might very well be dead..."
"Did you know she's a mutant?" I asked cheerfully. Chickenhawk's body language shifted at that, just enough to indicate he was a little surprised. "She's got this neat trick of making people dizzy or something... I'm not really sure, but I think Hexagon wants her alive because of it. I bet she's at his crib, getting down and having a big party..."
Chickenhawk finally made his move and tried to hit me with another gravity ball at closer range, but I was prepared for it. I'd used my PK aura to make sure my feet were firmly stuck to the ground, then I used what energy I could spare to try shielding myself from the attack, not that it did any good. I'd created a small shielded area around my chest, but he hit me in the stomach instead. I immediately felt gravity reverse, though I remained where I was, letting out a yawn.
"Was that supposed to do something?" I asked the obviously surprised Chickenhawk, hoping that my hair didn't ruin the effect since it was all going straight up now. "Are you sure you don't want to work with me on this? I mean, I can cut you in for a percentage... I'll even teach you how to crack a safe..."
"You're insane," Chickenhawk exclaimed, clearly frustrated.
"Does this mean you don't want to be my partner?" I asked with a mock pout. This whole thing was really starting to annoy him, so I made a mental note to try this routine again. I grinned broadly and announced, "Come to the dark side. We have cookies." I licked my lips and added, "Chocolate chip."
Chickenhawk lunged at me, apparently deciding to risk my claws. I dove to the side, and using my aura to reduce friction, I hit the ground and slid across the roof before coming to a stop and bouncing back to my feet. Then I quickly pulled a small smoke bomb from my pouch and stared at the hero.
"Then I guess I'll be going," I told Chickenhawk, giving him a friendly wave before calling out, "Ninja vanish," and throwing the smoke bomb to the ground at my feet.
There was a burst of smoke, which completely hid me from Chickenhawk's sight. I immediately activated my stealth effect and dove to the side, hitting a good spot and freezing. When the smoke cleared a moment later, Chickenhawk looked over the rooftop, his eyes going right past where I was crouched, not seeing me at all.
"Damn it," Chickenhawk exclaimed. "She teleported again. Every damn time..."
I remained where I was, trying to hold back a laugh as the hero spent the next minute cursing me with a surprising variety of profanities. A couple of them were even in Spanish. I was quite a talented woman, but teleportation wasn't actually one of my gifts. It was pretty funny though because I'd been pulling this trick on Chickenhawk for years, and he still hadn't caught on.
Once Chickenhawk gave up and flew off, I remained where I was for several more minutes just to make sure. Only then did I move again, laughing loudly as I did so. The last time I had that much fun was during that job in Vegas with Pinball. I continued grinning like the cat who ate the canary, all the way back to my bike. Now I just had to do a little more research.
New York, Monday April 9th, 2007
Superbad was a bar for villains, though not the successful ones like Dr. Diabolik or Deathlist. Instead, Superbad was more of a dive bar that catered to the lower level street villain, the kind who often weren't successful enough as criminals to make a living off it and who had to have day jobs as well.
There were a couple other villain bars in town, such as Moriarty's, which was a bit high end and snobby, or the Black Mask, which was my usual hangout, but Superbad was probably the most casual. As someone who was moderately successful, hanging around this place could be bad for my reputation, but I occasionally came here anyway. It was one of the few places where I could sit back and have a drink as myself.
I was at the back of the bar, sitting down at a small table and nursing a beer. My tail swished back and forth in time to the music that was playing from the old jukebox. However, I wasn't drinking alone. My companion was Bob Zabrowski, a stocky man in his early fifties who had a bent nose and a prominent scar that ran across his face. Bob used to be a smalltime villain, until he'd gotten his ass seriously kicked by an overzealous street vigilante. The beating had been bad enough that Bob had quit the villain game, at least directly, though he still tried to keep his hands in by trading information and favors with people.
Bob pulled out a cigarette and lit it, and then without a word, he held the pack out to me. I took one of the cigarettes and lit it, keeping my eyes on Bob to watch his body language. After blowing out a stream of smoke, I finally asked, "So, what have you got for me?"
"Hexagon," Bob said, scowling a little. "He's a B list magic user from over on the West Coast, and apparently he wasn't doing so hot over there. From what I heard, some rookie villain took over his operation and chased him out of town. About six months ago, he decided to start over again in New York and immediately stared hiring some local muscle. However, he hasn't actually pulled anything until now."
"Lucky me," I said with a scowl, annoyed that a loser like him had gotten the best of me. If I wasn't careful, my reputation would really take a hit from that.
"What's your interest in him?" Bob asked me curiously.
I took a drink of my beer, then told him the same thing I'd told Chickenhawk. "I was casing the place for a robbery when he showed up and took what I was after before I could grab it. Needless to say, I'm not happy about that."
Of course, the truth was that I'd just been there to look at the art, the same as everyone else, not that anyone would believe me. But in situations like this, I found that a believable lie is usually better than a difficult to believe truth. Besides, it was also better for my reputation.
"I'd imagine not," Bob responded. "So, what are you gonna do?"
"I'm going to steal it right back," I answered with a grin. "I mean, how dare he steal something before I could? If I let that go unchallenged, that sets a bad precedence." Of course, that wasn't my only motivation for going after Hexagon.
Then my thoughts turned to Alicia, the poor kid who'd been snatched just because she tried helping me. I frowned at the memory, feeling an uncharacteristic stirring of guilt. During my life, there had been very few people who'd gone out of their way to help me out, but she had...and now she was paying because of it.
I silently told myself that it wasn't my fault and she wasn't my responsibility, but it didn't do any good. I might be a super villain...and a demonic looking mutant...but underneath it all, I guessed I was still human. Of course, I didn't dare let anyone else know about that. That would totally ruin my reputation. Once a villain got a reputation for going soft, people started to resist, and then it became work work work, all the time.
Just then, the jukebox began playing a new song, Barbie Girl from the band Aqua. 'I'm a Barbie girl in a Barbie world. Life in plastic...it's fantastic...' It was a catchy tune and I swished my tail back and forth in time to the music, though I bit back the urge to sing along with it. If I got caught doing that in a place like this, my reputation would never recover.
Someone at the other end of the bar called out, "Who the fuck selected this song?" I smirked but didn't fess up.
Someone else responded, "How the hell did this song even get in there?" There was a lot of grumbling about my choice of music, but they only had to put up with it for one song. That just made me think that the next time I came in, I was going to have to bring a whole roll of quarters, just to see how much I could monopolize the jukebox.
"Funny how this kind of music only comes on when you're here," Bob commented wryly.
"Quite a coincidence," I agreed.
Bob slid a folder across the table to me, and when I flipped through it, I saw that it contained everything he knew about Hexagon. There wasn't a whole lot of information present, but there was more than enough. Bob had included an address.
"This isn't Hexagon's usual kind of job," Bob told me while I was looking through the material he'd provided. "He's usually more into trying to build his own empire, not robbery. From what I can tell, he's never gone after art before either."
"So this is definitely out of character," I commented thoughtfully. "Either he's decided to try a different MO to go with the new locale, or there's something else going on."
Bob nodded at that, then gave me a curious look. "You've been pretty quiet lately, at least until now. Keeping a low profile?"
"Something like that," I answered with a shrug. "That last big job I did got a lot of attention so I've been keeping my head down for a bit."
Of course, that might have been why I'd started my little vacation, but not why it had lasted so long. That last job had had been a real pain in the ass, with my client screwing me over so I nearly got caught by the Empire City Guard, but at least it had been profitable. Afterwards, I just hadn't felt motivated to find another job, especially when my second career was just starting to take off. Oddly enough, I'd found more satisfaction in showing off my own paintings than I had in stealing the works of others...even the masterpieces. At least most of the time.
"Thanks for the info," I told Bob, downing the rest of my beer and then getting up to leave. He'd given me some useful bits of information, and it helped put some of the other things I'd found into perspective.
When I returned home, I pulled up the list of stolen paintings as well as my notes. I'd looked them over and tried to figure out what Hexagon had really been after, and I'd come up with a couple suspects. After talking with Bob, I was able to narrow them down further, throwing out the painting from the Atomic Fist, which had previously been at the top of my list.
"This one," I said, realizing which painting Hexagon must really have been after. "It has to be."
The painting in question wasn't especially impressive, being a self-portrait of the artist that showed a decent amount of skill, though not enough to really stand out. However, as with the painting from the Atomic Fist, it was the artist rather than the painting that was truly of interest. Alistaire Duccard had been an occultist as well as an artist, and after my research, I discovered that he'd actually formed his own cult. Apparently, he was also very lucky...or more accurately, his enemies were extremely unlucky. Nearly everyone who crossed him had a habit of dying in strange accidents, until he himself eventually suffered such an accident.
A magic user like Hexagon would definitely be interested in someone like Alistaire Duccard, or at least I assumed he would be. Duccard had used mysticism to create his own cult, and it sounded like that was exactly the kind of thing that Hexagon wanted to do. Of course, I still didn't know why Hexagon wanted this particular painting, but maybe he was just a big fan. After all, I've stolen more than a few paintings for no reason other than because I'd liked them.
I sat there for a minute, feeling rather smug and wondering if this was what the cops felt like when they'd solved a case. But then, I remembered that I might know what Hexagon really wanted to steal, but I didn't know why. And it didn't really matter either. I wasn't concerned about why he'd stolen the painting, only in getting my paintings back. And Alicia. I might be a villain, but there was no way that I was going to let that asshole hurt a kid if I could help it.
I knew where Hexagon had been hanging his hat, so that only left the question as to what I'd do with that knowledge. If I'd been a normal person, I might give this information to the police or even some costumed hero to go take care of the rescue, but I wasn't a normal person. I was a brilliant and fabulously talented thief. Besides, there was no way my pride would let me ever go to one of those clowns for help. That meant, it was entirely up to me.
Normally, I liked to take my time when preparing for a heist of this nature, researching the location, the security, the item I was stealing, and of course, planning both my entry and exit...as well as determining whether or not I'd just sneak in and out without anyone knowing or if I needed to make a flashy statement of some sort. Unfortunately, this time I didn't have the luxury of being able to do all that. The paintings might be able to wait, but I seriously doubted Alicia could. As it was, the longer I waited, the less likely she'd be to walk out of there in one piece.
I carefully considered all my options with the limited information I had available and decided that rescuing hostages really wasn't my thing. After this, I was going to stick to stealing things like a proper thief should. As it was, if I knew how to find Chickenhawk, I would have been pretty tempted to just 'accidentally' let slip where Hexagon was hiding out, then let him take care of the rest. However, that girl might not have the time for me to play those kind of games any more than she did for me to plan a proper heist. Whether I liked it or not, I was the one who had to do this, and I had to do it that night.
With that, I casually tossed a throwing spike at the dart board that hung from my wall. It had a picture of Chickenhawk taped to it, artistically customized by me using a sharpie to give him a mustache and buck teeth. I caught him right in the nose, which brought a smile to my face.
"All right Imp," I said as I stood back up and stretched. "Playing hero for one night should be an interesting change of pace, if nothing else. Now time to get to work."
Once it was dark, I 'borrowed' a car and drove it to my destination, parking it nearby so it would be easy to get to but not too noticeable. I definitely would have preferred riding my bike since it was not only more comfortable for me, but also would have made for a faster getaway, but it wasn't very practical for what I had planned. I needed room to carry a few paintings, not to mention a girl in unknown condition.
Hexagon's home was actually a small mansion in a fairly ritzy area, which was much better than the old warehouse or old subway tunnel that I might have expected from someone like him. Of course, the house didn't actually belong to him. According to Bob, Hexagon was merely borrowing the property from the real owner, though whether Hexagon was paying rent or using some kind of coercion, I had no idea. Nor did I really care.
From what I could see of the visible security, there was a fifteen foot wall that completely surrounded the ten acre property, with razorwire strung across the entire thing. There was an ornate iron gate at the only entrance, which was being guarded by a guy with scratches across his face, a reminder from our little tangle at the museum. I heard dogs from inside, which meant that they either had guards with K9 units, or more likely, had some roaming dogs that were trained to attack any intruders. All in all, the visible security looked like a joke. It wasn't the physical security that concerned me, but the magical. As a magic user, Hexagon was sure to have some kind of magical protection as well.
"I hate dealing with magic," I muttered, sticking my tongue out at the house. It was often unpredictable, invisible to someone like me, and therefore difficult to work around. There was a good reason I preferred to leave that kind of thing to specialists like B*Witch. "Too bad I don't have much choice."
Of course, I might not know much about magic, but I was a brilliantly talented thief and had more than a few tricks up my sleeve. With that in mind, I went to work, activating my stealth ability and carefully making my way around the wall. I found a nice spot that looked promising, then held up my little magic detecting bauble. It glowed faintly, much to my annoyance. I moved further down the wall and checked again. I found several places where my bauble glowed, so I avoided those sections of the wall and climbed one that was safe.
Once I was over the wall, I quickly made my way to the house, only to find that the windows on the lower level made my bauble glow a little as well. However, that was no problem as I simply climbed the wall to the second floor, used one of my one-shot devises to bypass the normal security alarm, then let myself inside. As soon as I was in, I quietly hummed the theme music from Mission Impossible and crept down the hall, trying to find where Hexagon had stashed the paintings...and the girl.
While I was searching room to room, mostly ducking into the rooms just to avoid being seen, I stumbled across an office with a large safe. The sight of it was enough to make me grin in anticipation. This wasn't why I'd come here, but I couldn't resist the allure. It was like Christmas morning, with a nicely wrapped present just begging to be opened.
"But first," I mused, holding up my magic detecting bauble to confirm there was no magic. So far, I hadn't seen any signs of magic inside the house, but if Hexagon was going to use magic to protect anything, I would have thought it would be a safe. "Amateur."
I had several methods I could use to open the safe, the most simple and straight forward being to just use my PK claws to cut through the side. However, that would have been a little too noticeable if someone happened to come into the room...and it lacked any finesse. And of course, I could simply have opened it the old fashioned way, the way I'd originally been taught, but that would have taken a little more time than I had to spare. Because of that, I decided to compromise in my method.
I placed my hand against the front of the safe and extended my PK aura, gently pushing against the tumblers inside ever so faintly, just enough so that if I concentrated, I could feel the subtle pressure. It had taken me years of practice to develop the skill and fine control for this trick, but it had been well worth it. With just a little gentle coaxing from my PK aura, the tumblers shifted position and the safe popped open with no outward signs that I'd done anything at all.
"Now, let's see what Santa brought me," I mused, looking through the contents.
There were a couple stacks of cash inside, as well as an old book. I ran the magic detecting bauble over the book and it didn't detect anything, so I risked opening the thing. It looked like it was just an old diary, but then I noticed the name on the inside cover. Alistaire Duccard. I slipped the diary into my backpack, along with all the cash.
I was just closing up the safer so I could continue my search when an armed man came into the room. I vaguely recognized him from the museum, which meant that I also felt an immediate dislike of him.
"What the...?" he started, immediately reaching for his gun.
I jumped at him without hesitation, grabbing his arm and digging my long sharp nails into the skin to distract him from the gun. He started to yell, but I put a hand across his mouth and kneed him in the balls. A moment later, I smashed his head into the safe...several times, until he collapsed to the ground.
"Oh, did the poor baby fall down and go boom?" I mocked him.
After rolling the man over and verifying that he was indeed out of it, wondered what to do with him. Since he was pretty out of it, I didn't think that he was likely to cause me any trouble in the immediate future, but still... Then I looked over at the desk in the corner and grinned, suddenly having an idea.
In mere seconds, I'd snatched a sharpie from the top of the desk and had gone to work on my defeated opponent. I drew a little mustache onto his face, along with a pair of glasses, before I followed it up by putting a big L on his forehead. I might have done more, but I was short on time.
"No excuse not to stop and smell the roses," I reminded myself with a smirk.
A few minutes later, I found all the paintings in one of the other rooms, stacked up in a haphazard pile, much to my horror. I stared at the poorly treated paintings, feeling angry and even more disgusted by those idiotic amateurs than before. In spite of all the trouble they'd gone through to grab those paintings, they were treating them with absolutely no respect or care at all. I would have thought that even if they hadn't cared about the artistic value of those pieces, that at least they would have cared about the monetary.
"The heathens," I spat out in contempt, quickly looking over the paintings and positioning them on their sides so that at least they'd be less likely to be damaged. I was relieved to see only one of the paintings had been damaged, and it had been one of the abstract pieces that I'd thought was overhyped trash. Still, even that deserved better treatment than this. "At least Waking at Dawn is still intact."
Once I'd looked over all the paintings, I saw that one of them was still missing...the self-portrait from Alistaire Duccard. Between that and the diary I'd found, this just confirmed my theory as to what they'd really been after. Of course, I still didn't know why, but that information might very well be in the diary. It was just too bad that I didn't have time to look through it at the moment, because even though I'd found the paintings, I still needed to grab the girl.
For a brief moment, I was tempted to just grab Waking at Dawn and go, maybe taking anything else I could carry as well. However, I couldn't just leave the kid behind, especially not after coming here for her in the first place. I gave Waking at Dawn a gentle caress along the frame while I braced myself to leave it where it was...at least for the moment.
While I continued looking through the house, I saw a few opportunities to amuse myself with such things as plastic wrap on the toilet or pouring some liquid laxative into the coffee pot, but unfortunately, I didn't have time to play around. I let out a faint sigh as I turned my back on each opportunity, putting as much focus as I could on the task at hand. Then as I made my way to the basement, I heard Hexagon's voice coming from down below. I didn't know if Alicia was down there, but it was definitely worth a closer look.
A single glance over the basement was enough to reveal its intended purpose...and to make me thirsty. The surface of each wall was covered with racks of wine, and there were several additional racks set up around the room as well. I enjoyed a nice glass of merlot in the evening, but I couldn't imagine needing such a large collection of wine. Then again, there were people who couldn't understand my appreciation for fine art either, so I probably shouldn't judge. After all, it wasn't my place to point out that someone had a drinking problem.
There was a large open space in the middle of the basement, which looked like it had previously held a few comfortable chairs, though the chairs had been pushed off to the side. Instead, that space now had a hexagon painted onto the expensive tiles, with what looked like red paint. Each side of the hexagon also had symbols painted beside it, though I didn't know what these symbols meant. What I did know was that Alicia was sitting in the middle of the hexagon, her hands and feet tied together, with a gag in her mouth and a blindfold over her eyes.
Hexagon stood a short distance from the panted hexagon, dressed in the black costume with the gold metal pendant, though the red cloak that he'd previously worn was absent. Without the cloak to obscure his body and features, he looked even less intimidating than before. In fact, if I'd seen him on the streets, I probably just would have assumed he was an accountant or something.
"Finally," Hexagon exclaimed, glancing to the man standing beside him. That man was tall and muscular, though not one I recognized from the museum. "In just a few more minutes, I'll finally have the power I need to make my reputation..."
"It's been a long time coming, Miles," the muscular man told him.
"It's Hexagon," he snapped in response. "When I'm in costume, it's Hexagon."
"You're only half in costume," the muscular man pointed out with a faint chuckle.
"Scott," Hexagon said, looking to the man beside him. "Do you know how humiliating it is...having everything I worked for stolen from me...by my own apprentice?"
"The kid was a natural," the muscular man...Scott responded, shaking his head.
Hexagon snarled, then looked to a corner where the self-portrait of Alistaire Duccard was sitting, leaning up against a wine rack. "My grandfather understood true power...how to gather followers and inspire them to complete loyalty... I feared that I'd never match his power, until I found his journal. Unfortunately, it didn't give me the spell he used to summon the demon that killed his enemies for him, but it did tell me where he'd hidden it."
"The back of the painting," Scott agreed. "Too bad your family sold the thing after he'd died."
"That was...unfortunate," Hexagon agreed. "But little matter. I have the painting now...and the spell. I've completed most of the ritual, and I've marked my chosen sacrifice... The demon should appreciate being given a sacrifice with power..."
I looked at Alicia again, noticing that some symbols had been painted on her forehead and arms. I scowled at that, then glared at Hexagon, who was pulling out an ornate looking knife. This definitely wasn't good.
"Once I finish the sacrifice," Hexagon told Scott, "the demon will be at my service for one year...killing any who oppose me...including that traitorous student."
As Hexagon approached Alicia, I knew that I had to do something. But what? Then I had an idea and called out, "You have summoned me" I tried to keep my voice as low and deep as I could. Hexagon and Scott both jumped in surprise, obviously not expecting a reaction until after they'd finished the sacrifice. "I shall take the girl myself...and then we'll talk."
"Yes, oh powerful demon," Hexagon said, lowering the knife and looking around, not seeing me as I was crouched down by the doorway, still using my powers to hide.
"I thought you said this demon was a guy," Scott pointed out, looking around with a suspicious express. "That sounds like a chick..."
"You're right," Hexagon exclaimed, now looking around with a suspicious expression as well. "In fact...it sounds like that demon girl from the museum..."
"Damn," I muttered to myself, then called out, "I am the great and powerful Oz. Do not look at the Imp behind the curtain." And with that, I threw several of my small smoke bombs at Hexagon and Scott, blinding them both with the burst of smoke while I jumped into action, dropping my stealth effect at the same time since it wasn't very useful while I was moving.
I was at Alicia's side in a moment, tearing off her blindfold and then creating a PK claw so I could cut through the ropes holding her hands and feet together. She stared at me in surprise, and the moment her hands were free, she began pulling off her gag.
"The demon girl," Hexagon exclaimed, glaring at me furiously now that the smoke had cleared.
I just pointed at him and responded, "The stupid amateur..."
"Ah think we should get outa here," Alicia said, scrambling to her feet and quickly getting out of the painted hexagon.
Hexagon fired a blast of red energy at me but I dove to the side, avoiding the attack. However, the wine rack behind me took the hit and suddenly there was shattered glass and wine spilling all over the floor.
"Alcohol abuse," I cried out in mock offense. "That is such an imp-polite way of treating your guests." Then I gave him a raspberry and added, "Neener neener neener."
"Get her," Hexagon yelled at Scott.
Scott pulled out a large handgun, so I threw one of my throwing spikes at him and caught him in the chest. He yelled out but didn't drop the gun. He fired a shot, which hit the wall behind me, so I dove between him and Hexagon, making both of them hesitate before attacking since they could end up hitting each other.
"Um...Miss Imp," Alicia called out, gesturing to the basement entrance, where two more of the armed goods were coming in. "Ah think we've got company..."
"Imp-pressive response time," I responded with a smirk to hide my faint nervousness. With all these guns, the chance of someone getting hurt was really increasing by the second. I just hoped it wasn't me.
"I need that girl," Hexagon announced to his men, pointing to Alicia. "Don't hurt her...but you're welcome to kill this bitch." That time he was pointing at me.
Hexagon fired another blast of energy at me, so I dove to the side, then ran over and grabbed the painting. Though I hated using a painting like this on general principal, I thought it might be the best way for me and the girl to get out of this.
"I don't think you want to risk this thing," I said, waving the painting in front of me like a shield. "I mean, with the whole magic ritual on it and all..."
Then I glanced back to Alicia, who was dealing with the two men who'd joined the party late. Since Hexagon wanted her unharmed, they'd lowered their guns and were trying to grab her with their hands. She was still in danger, but at least they weren't trying to kill her...yet.
"Ito Sensei would flunk mah ass if ah let y'all beat me," Alicia exclaimed, glaring at one of her opponents who suddenly looked dizzy and staggered. She took advantage of that by punching him several times, then kicking at the other man, much to my amusement.
Hexagon began casting another spell, and a glowing hexagon began appearing on the floor beneath Alicia. I tried calling out a warning, but it was too late. He'd caught her again. Then he tried doing the same thing to me, though I jumped out of the way fast enough to avoid it.
"Hey Hexagoner," I called out, "You don't want me to damage this, do you?" Of course, I'd rather hurt myself than a piece of beautiful art, but I might make an exception for this mediocre thing.
"My name is Hexagon," the magic user exclaimed in obvious annoyance. "Or more appropriately, Master Hexagon."
"You look more like a square to me," I teased, holding the painting in front of me again as Scott was trying to get a clear shot. Then I ran towards Scott, keeping the painting between us until I reached him, then I shifted to the side, ducked down low, and used my tail to yank his feet right out from beneath him. Without a word, I kicked the gun from his hand then kicked him again in the face. "That's gotta hurt..."
I looked over to Alicia, who was still in the glowing hexagon, though she was glaring at one of the men with a look of intense concentration. He staggered back and forth, then to my surprise, he actually collapsed to the floor, actually passing out.
"Ah did it," she exclaimed, looking almost as if she was ready to bounce with excitement before she turned her attention to the other man.
Alicia was trapped in the glowing hexagon, but that didn't seem to prevent the other man from punching at her. She was hit several times and was desperately trying to defend herself, which seemed to keep her too distracted to use her powers to take him down the way she had his companion.
Suddenly, I noticed the ground beneath me glowing again, and I attempted to jump out of the way, but this time Hexagon was creating far too large of a trap for me to escape in time. I sudden ran into an invisible wall, then changed direction and ran over to another invisible wall. He'd caught me again, in a cage that was much larger than the one at the museum.
"I can't afford to waste so much essence," Hexagon stated with a pissed off look. "But I can't afford to let you escape either, with the girl or the ritual."
I looked around at the glowing hexagon I was caught in, feeling annoyed and frustrated. This was why I hated direct confrontations. It was so much easier to just sneak it and out, then gloat about it afterwards.
"And I would have gotten away with it too," I responded with a smirk. "If it wasn't for you meddling kids..."
"Do you think you can make some kind of deal with this demon?" Scott asked Hexagon.
Hexagon stared at me for a moment before shaking his head. "No, she's not a real demon. She's just a pretender..."
"Finally," I responded cheerfully, reaching into one of the pouches on my belt. "Someone who doesn't try throwing holy water on me."
"This one's a bit of a smartass," Scott told Hexagon, who nodded faintly.
"Better than being a dumbass," I responded smugly.
I clutched the contents from my belt pouch firmly in hand while I looked over the glowing hexagon on the floor. I didn't really know much about magic, but I had worked with specialists before...and I'd taken advantage of the opportunity to ask them a few questions. Specifically, I'd asked about how to get past magical wards and security. And while I'd been told that most of the time it would take a skilled magic user to bypass those kinds of things, I'd also been told that many types of magic were vulnerable to iron and could be disrupted by exposure to it.
With that, I threw a handful of iron shavings at the invisible wall, which immediately began to throw sparks all over the place. I braced myself and jumped through the sparking area, feeling a slight resistance though not enough to stop me.
"How...?" Hexagon blurted out in surprise. He went to fire another blast of magical energy at me, but I held up the painting to use it like a shield again, which made him hesitate.
Scott charged at me, so I dropped the painting and scratched at him with my nails. My PK claws would have done a lot more damage, but I wasn't trying to kill him. Instead, I used my power to make myself slippery and hard to grip, then proceeded to take turns hitting him and then dodging to the side.
"Too slow," I called out cheerfully, jumping at Hexagon and punching him in the face. Then I kicked him in the balls before slamming him face first into the floor. "So long Hexagoner. It's been fun."
I ran towards Alicia and the man she was fighting, using the rest of my iron shavings to weaken her cage so I could knock her out of it. Then while I kicked her opponent, she glared at him with a look of concentration, which kept him from fighting back as I kicked him a few more times, until he stopped moving.
"Thanks," Alicia told me, looking like she was barely able to stay standing. "But ah would have had him in just a few seconds..." However, there was definitely a note of doubt in her voice.
"Sure, kid," I responded, grabbing the painting. "Let's get out of here..."
"I need that girl," Hexagon snarled at Scott as he got back to his feet. "I've already promised her to the demon, so if I tried giving him anyone else...it would break the deal. That thing killed my grandfather because he broke the terms of their agreement, so I MUST have her... If I don't sacrifice her...he'll come after me instead."
"Too bad," I called back to Hexagon, sticking my tongue out at him before leaving the basement with Alicia. "So sad."
We ran upstairs, and I was thinking about how I could get back to where I'd left Waking at Dawn. However, several more guards were coming and they were armed. I let out a profanity, realizing that I could probably get past them and retrieve my painting, but I'd have to leave Alicia behind to do it.
"Damn, damn, and double damn," I said in frustration.
For a brief moment, I was caught in indecision, knowing that I could only leave with Alicia or the painting, not both. Then I let out another curse, grabbed Alicia's hand and raced for a side window. I opened the window and helped her climb out, then looked back for a long second, saying a silent goodbye to my favorite painting before I climbed out as well.
One guard rushed towards us, pausing to begin shooting. Either he was a trigger-happy idiot or he didn't know Hexagon wanted Alicia alive, though I quickly realized it was probably both. Alicia screamed and grabbed her arm, so I turned and flung one of my spikes at the guard, boosting the force with my PK aura. The spike hit him in the shoulder and went clean through him, knocking him back and making him drop the gun.
"Asshole," I snarled, glad that Alicia was still on her feet because I couldn't just pick her up and fight my way out of here with her slung over my shoulder.
"Damn, that hurts," Alicia cried out in obvious pain, holding her arm. "Ah swear...If I get mah hands on that asshole...he's gator bait."
"No time," I told her, realizing that I couldn't get her over the wall with her injured and more guards coming. "It looks like we need to leave through the front door."
I ran to the front gate with Alicia following behind. Fortunately, there was only one guard there, and I hit him with one of my throwing spikes before he realized what I was doing. A few seconds later, I had him disarmed and bounced his face off the wall a few times.
The wrought iron gate was closed and we didn't have time for me to open it. However, that wasn't an issue as I formed my PK claws and sliced through the metal bars, quickly creating an opening large enough for us to leave through.
"Well, ain't that somethin," Alicia gasped, looking quite impressed, though she was still holding her arm and wincing in pain.
"This is NOT how I like to leave a robbery," I muttered as we hurried to where I'd left the 'borrowed' car. "Nearly empty-handed and being shot at."
"Ah'm just happy to get outta there alive," Alicia pointed out, climbing into the car and letting out a long sigh of relief. "And thanks. Ah woulda been dead..."
"No big deal," I responded with a forced smile. "I was only there to steal back a painting..." I didn't mention the fact that I'd been forced to leave that particular painting behind anyway. "Just don't tell anyone I rescued you. I mean, that would totally ruin my reputation."
As I drove off, hitting the gas as much as I dared, I glanced to Alicia and was relieved to see that her injury wasn't too bad. Still, she'd need to get that looked at, and she'd need a place to lay low for awhile since Hexagon was obviously going to come looking for her.
I momentarily considered dropping her off at the hospital and letting the cops watch her, but then snorted at the very thought. I wouldn't trust the cops to protect a baby's candy, so I sure as hell wouldn't count on them to protect the girl from a magic user like Hexagon.
Then my thoughts turned to Waking at Dawn and all the other paintings that I'd been forced to leave behind. I almost felt ill as I thought about the poor way they were being treated, and I certainly didn't trust Hexagon and his idiot soldiers to not damage them. For all I knew, Hexagon would destroy them all just out of spite.
If the situation was different, I might have arranged a proper heist, or even have gone back and snuck the paintings out one at a time. However, I had to get Alicia to safety and didn't want to leave those paintings with Hexagon for even a minute more than I had to. Because of that, I could only think of one solution. I absolutely hated having to do this since it went against my professional principles, but I didn't have any better options.
With that, I picked up my cell phone and hesitated a moment before dialing. "Hello," I told the 911 operator. "I'm a concerned citizen and I know where you can find some stolen paintings..."