The Thief And The Mangler by Derek Cottrell
The Thief And The Mangler by Derek Cottrell
Night. A time that promised intrigue and mystery. When the ordinary became extraordinary and when shadows blanketed the ground. It was the time the romantic yearned for, spies crept forward, and a thief’s most trusted friend.
Farah was a thief.
The ferret stood perfectly still in the shadows of the tower wall. Her cloak was pulled close, further obscuring herfrom sight. Beneath the cloak she wore her leathers and weapons. Her tail twitched eagerly. She breathed slowly as her heart raced, anxiousness filling her slender body as she waited.
She had one and only one opportunity to make it right.
Far ahead a portcullis lay before her. Farah had been casing the fortress for several days. It was home to the Duchy’s army. Well drilled and disciplined, they were formidable in the field and their fortress was just as intimidating. But like most well drilled militaries, they were entirely predictable in their routine and movement. Farah had watched and noted the times they changed guard from her keen brown eyes.
Every night on the eleventh hour, they changed guard and the portcullis would open. This event would be her one opportunity. She waited for a bit longer, ears flicking as her muzzle parted in a scowl.
“Just my luck. The one time they’re late is the time I’m trying to rob them.”
But as soon as Farah grumbled she heard the familiar metallic clanking sound as the portcullis began to rise.
The ferret thief rubbed her palms together, “Oh, this is going to be so much fun.”
Darting through the night she was but a gray blur as she scrambled from one shadow to the next. She kept a wary eye on the guards as they went through the usual ceremonial procedures of relieving one another of their duty. Timing was everything. As the soldiers performed facing movements, Farah would dart to another shadow and another. Gradually working her way up to the entrance of the fortress and making her way inside.
She could hear the echoes of orders shouted and the portcullis closing as she silently padded down the hall. No turning back now. Recalling the floorplan she’d memorized, she turned down one hall after another.
Finally she stopped at a door labeled: PAYMASTER.
Farah pushed the door open and slid inside nonchalantly. A large badger sat at a table flanked by a pair of boars.
“Get out! You’ll get paid tomorrow…”
His eyes widened and his ears went back as he saw Farah.
“You’re no soldier,” he shouted.
“How observant,” Farah replied as she flung a dart into the badger’s arm.
The paymaster stood up as he went to draw steel and toppled over as the sleeping agents took effect. The two boars lowered their spears and bellowed as they charged the ferret. On nimble feet, she ran to meet them. At the last second, she slid across the floor beneath their spears before sticking both with her last two darts.
“Night boys. Dream of me,” she smirked as the boars fell over in a heap of armor and muscle.
Dusting herself off, Farah grinned and rubbed her palms together before unlocking the prisonesque door where bags of golden coins lay. The army’s payroll, she’d chosen well. No one would have thought anyone would get so close, lucky for her, hence the small guard detail. She hummed to herself as she grabbed as much as she could carry. This was what she lived for, the thrill of the heist. Though making a lot of money was great too.
Having taken enough to reap a profit, but not enough to encumber her, Farah trotted out of the room and down the hall. That’s when her luck ran out. She’d come face to face with a young male coyote and she was out of darts.
“Uhhhh, shhh, you didn’t see anything,” Farah whispered.
The coyote’s ears flattened. “Like hell,” he growled as he drew a sword. “Guards! Intruder! Intruder!”
Farah had freed her handaxe and stepped forward. The coyote delivered a thrust for her torso. The ferret expertly maneuvered the point away with the hook of her axehead before bashing the young soldier in the head with the blunt part of her axe. Farah wasn’t above killing, but she preferred to incapacitate. Theft was one thing, murder was something else entirely.
The coyote went down, out cold from the blow.
“Sorry love,” Farah smirked as she ran down the hall, the sound of an entire fortress coming to life spurred her on.
Despite the fear she felt a surge of pleasure, this was just part of the fun for her. Of course if she got caught the fun would be all over via an executioner’s axe. Several crossbow bolts sailed over her head and smacked into a stone wall.
“Damn! We missed,” a voice grumbled.
“Now you gotta kiss me,” Farah taunted.
“Club her to death,” the enraged voice shouted.
Farah giggled, further irritating her pursuers. Despite her bravado, she was wondering if she was actually going to get caught this time around. Footfalls were drawing ever nearer as the fortress garrison closed in on her. Already she could see the shadows of armored beings holding spears and crossbows looming before her. She paused by the window, a simple square cut into stone. Just barely big enough for a ferret like her.
Huffing and straining Farah pushed herself through.
“Thank the gods I’m a skinny girl,” she muttered to herself.
Farah suddenly yelped as someone grabbed a tuft full of her tail.
“Yowch! Let go,” she shouted as she braced her legs against the stone and pushed off. Her tail slipping from her foes grasp, minus a clump of fur.
The thief didn’t have long to celebrate as she was suddenly tumbling towards the river below.
Farah was suddenly submerged in the dirty brown water of the river. She knew she lost some of her gold too. She fought to keep her head above the water, spitting up water as she surfaced, and took a breath. She was a fine swimmer, but loot, clothing, and weapons made it a chore.
Struggling and kicking, she finally found purchase on a shallow part of the river bed and crawled her way to the bank. She flopped down on the ground. Her chest rising and falling from exertion as the chill night wind caused her to shiver.
“Now that was fun,” Farah muttered as she picked herself up.
She could use a trip to the bathhouse she thought as she shivered. However, she needed to get away from the immediate area; her crime had not gone unnoticed. Indeed as she entered the city proper she found the town watch was out in force. Farah peered down from a rooftop as a pair of wolf watchmen with truncheons and halberds padded below her.
Had word spread of her crime already? That was far too fast. Even if they sent their fastest courier from the fortress, the city watch couldn’t have mobilized so quickly. The watchmen passed below her, one staring in her direction. Farah held completely still as her heart thudded in her chest, the watchman turned away and continued down the street.
The more Farah travelled, the more lawmen she encountered. Lugging her loot made climbing and moving fast difficult. So, reluctantly and to ensure she could make a quick escape, Farah found a quiet uninhabited hiding spot. A rundown cottage house with loose floorboards made a handy place to stash her gold. Hoping no one got curious or lucky enough to pry at the floorboards, Farah moved on.
The ferret plodded down a dingy alley. The degenerate drunkards that every city had lay passed out in the streets. Many would feel uncomfortable in such a rundown area, but Farah was in her element. She’d lived her life in such places; this was home. Her ears suddenly twitched as she heard something that chilled her to the bone. A scream of pure terror.
“What in the hells,” she asked as she ran forward.
Farah was used to seeing immoral things taking place, she was a thief after all, but sometimes she just couldn’t look the other way. She wasn’t all bad; she had some morals. Well, maybe a few. With one hand on her short sword, she hurried forward and then stopped dead in her tracks at what she saw before her.
A body lay strewn before her. At one point it had been a young otteress. Now cloth and flesh were barely recognizable from the carnage that was done upon it.
“I think I’m going to hurl,” Farah gagged.
The gashes were spaced evenly apart. She recognized they were not done by any dagger or sword, this was done by claws. While claws were certainly used in many martial arts forms, most civilized creatures preferred to use steel. Why had his poor otteress been ripped to shreds? Farah realized she couldn’t keep pondering it. Upon hearing the horns of the watch bray, she decided to make herself scarce.
Several minutes later the thief was soaking in a copper wash tub. She sighed contently as she felt the warmth seeping through her body. Madam Veesus rented out the bathhouse for a decent price and, more importantly, she wasn’t one to ask questions. Farah folded her hands behind her head as she relaxed.
“Ahhh, yeah. This is more like it.”
A bottle of cheap complementary wine lay next to her tub along with her weapons. Just in case some letch happened by. Her clothes were being tended to by the staff, another service offered in the bathhouse.
She tensed when she heard the privacy curtain pull back, her hand going for her axe. An older vixen stood there, the proprietor herself.
“Just me honey. Times almost up.”
“Ugh, I want to stay here forever,” Farah grumbled. “Why you so mean to me?”
“Do you have that kind of cash? Cause that’s what it would take.”
Farah tilted her head, “You’re right, never mind. I’m paying too much as is. My clothes ready yet?”
Veesus shook her head, “Five more minutes. Brought you a robe.”
Farah took it as she gathered her stuff.
Veesus twitched her head, “You be careful out there with whatever it is you do.”
Farah tilted her head, “What’s that supposed to mean? I’m always careful.”
“Right,” Veesus sighed. “Sure you are. There’s just things amiss right now, something fell in the air. I’d hate to see you hurt.”
Farah shrugged, “Ah, Veesus. You’re starting to sound like a crazed soothsayer. I’m a clever little ferret. I’ll be fine.”
But despite her bluster, Farah felt her tail twitching uneasily as she made it to the tavern she was currently calling home. She was ill at ease and it wasn’t just the loot she’d been forced to hide away for anyone to discover. No, this was something else entirely. She kept thinking back to the mangled body and Veesus’s warnings.
The Rusted Dagger was run by a large ape who regularly tossed troublemakers outside and was a favorite place for Farah’s kin. Well, for those that worked in trades similar to hers. It was also a fine spot for potential employers to recruit from.
Farah was pleased to find many familiar faces in the common area, local guild members, independents, and con artists. She took a seat nearby after ordering some mead and put her feet up on the table.
“Heya boys!” She grinned.
“Farah,” a male tabby cat greeted her.
“The shadow herself,” a rat grunted.
“You hear the news,” a sly female ocelot asked.
Farah smirked, “Why did somebody rob the militia fortress and steal a payroll?”
There were odd looks among the assembled creatures.
“No, haven’t heard that,” the rat said.
“Me either,” the tabby flicked his tail.
Farah scowled, “Well give it time… Not that I know anything about that.”
“Of course,” the ocelot sighed. “As I was saying, there’s been a whole slew of murders in the streets over the past three months.”
Farah waved her hand, “Yeah, how’s that anything new? Unless you mean that otteress who got torn to bits. Not your ordinary killings either, shredded to bits and left to be found.”
“Another one,” the ape innkeeper grunted, butting into the conversation.
Farah’s ears twitched, “You mean there have been others?”
The tabby sipped his drink, “Where have you been Farah? In a den? This has been going on for days.”
Farah threw up her hands, “I’ve been working, okay? What have you been doing?”
“Laying low,” the rat replied.
The ocelot twitched her tail, “With this killer on the loose, making the watch look like bigger fools than they already are, they’re out in force every night. It makes it hard for the likes of us.”
“Hmm… good point.” Farah remarked.
As the days went on, more mutilated bodies began to turn up. They varied by species and gender, from innocent looking mice to a tough she wolf. None seemed to be safe from the culprit or culprits now dubbed, The Mangler. Whoever this Mangler was, they were still very much at large. Farah found it hard to do much of anything with the watch out in force day and night. With the watch patrolling the streets so vigilant, many thieves found it hard to operate with a good number getting caught in the act and arrested on the spot. The Rusted Dagger filled up with low lying criminals.
Much to Farah’s chagrin, there was still nothing being said about her heist on the fortress. Everything was about The Mangler, how the watch was so desperate to catch him, and how they’d even began to bolster their ranks with freelance bounty hunters.
“This murderer is bad for business,” Farah grumbled. “Everything is twice as hard. I’m always up for a challenge, but right now this city’s not the best place to operate.”
The rat thief nodded his head, “Say it sister! I’m skipping town tomorrow. Damn, I hate having to start fresh.”
Farah twitched her ears as a crazy idea came to her. “What if we caught The Mangler?”
“You really are insane,” the rat said.
“Come on!” Farah stood up her tail twitching. “We’re the true masters of the night. Not this… fiend. If anyone can catch a murderer it should be us! He’s not one of our kin. He’s a murderer! Not even a respectable assassin because at least they do it for money.”
An opossum decked out in a large cloak and sitting at the back of the common area tilted her glass towards Farah in silent salute.
Farah continued her tirade.
“He shouldn’t get the same protection as us! We don’t sell our own out unless we need to save our own hides or… we really hate one another. The point is, if we kill or catch this Mangler we can get the law off our backs for a bit. Maybe even earn ourselves a favor.”
The tabby cat clapped his paws, “Farah for magister!”
“Oh, shut it! Do what you wish, but I’m going hunting and I’m going to catch myself a rodent. No offense guys!”
“None taken,” rang out from those rodents around her.
Night after night Farah prowled the dark alleys, avoiding the watchmen, and chasing down every scream she heard. Despite her best efforts, she always seemed to be a step behind the mysterious killer. Often times she didn’t have a chance to even pursue the screams, finding herself suddenly exposed to watchmen who would gladly take nabbing the one and only Farah as a secondary prize.
It was frustrating to say the least.
“I don’t know who you are Mister Mangler, but when I finally get my claws on you, they’re going to call you Mangled instead,” she ranted one night to the empty alleys.
She vented her frustrations one night, as she bought a new phial of sleeping agents for her darts.
“I thought this would be easy Grisha. So far it’s been anything but.”
Grisha was a blind female hyena, a shaman of sorts. She bared her teeth in what she thought was a genuine smile, “Oh, my poor Farah. Maybe you’re doing it all wrong. This is new for you, yes? Hunting a living thing instead of stealing a pretty, pretty bauble.”
Farah shrugged, “Maybe.”
Grisha wagged a claw, “You want Grisha’s opinion, yes?”
Farah crossed her arms, “Not if I have to pay to hear it.”
Grisha laughed, “That’s what I like about you my ferret. Always with the sassy remarks! But no. For you, my favorite customer, it’s on the house.”
Farah’s tail twitched, “Go on.”
“Perhaps you should make yourself the bait? You go out there dressed for the heist, decked in weaponry, and clothed in shadow. Perhaps, if you wore a dress and concealed your weapons you would have better luck. Your prey would come to you. Instead of you chasing your own shadow.”
Farah tilted her head. “I hate it. But it’s brilliant. Seems I need a new dress.”
Grisha tapped her claw against her muzzle, “Mmm, you want to see what I have in stock?”
Farah huffed, “How did I know that was going to be the next set of words out of your muzzle?”
Farah was hating the idea from the start, she was the bait for her own trap. The ferret no longer wore her leathers and gear. Instead she was clad in the dress Grisha had sold her. It was green, leaving her shoulders bare and her chest covered. The skirt was slit to reveal her white stocking covered toned legs, but kept her thighs covered. Just above the slit on her right thigh, a dagger was strapped to her leg. She’d foregone her stun darts, the less she had hidden under her skirts the better. Besides her sedatives took time to work.
She hoped she looked helpless, and a tempting target, like many of the other victims had been.
“Ugh, stupid dress,” she grumbled adjusting it once again.
Farah paused as she struck a pose with her hand on her hip.
“I look pretty damn good though.”
She remained on the darkened street corner. It was eerily deserted, aside from a couple of weasels who asked her how much. Farah gave them a rude gesture and told them she wasn’t interested in runts.
After a time though, she moved on walking down alleys and street corners. Her hand never straying too far from the hidden dagger. Was this what it felt like for those she’d always robbed on the street? Granted Farah was too refined to be a mugger, but she liked to keep her pickpocket skills sharp.
Her ears twitched and her tail fidgeted as she heard something. Padded feet against stone. Someone was trying to sneak up on her, and doing very poorly. Amateur! Farah kept her sauntering walk going, pretending like she didn’t hear her stalker plodding along behind her.
When she heard heavy breathing she whirled and saw a mangy coated male hyena gazing at her with slavering jaws. His eyes were wide, red rimmed, and crazed as he drooled.
“Hello little ferret,” he growled as he shoved her roughly.
Farah staggered back, colliding against the wall with a huff. Her hand closed along the dagger’s hilt as she stared at the hyena. She kept up the scared act as she whimpered, ears lying flat. Farah’s heart was thumping in her chest as the hyena drew closer, was it fear or excitement? Even she could not say.
“Oh, no. Please no,” she pleaded, marveling at her acting skills.
“Heheh, oh yes,” the hyena chuckled.
Inwardly, Farah smirked. The fool was taking the bait, hook, line, and sinker. Just a bit closer. A massive shape suddenly collided with the hyena, sending him sprawling on the street. The hyena scrambled to his feet, teeth bared before he saw what he was facing.
A large regal tiger with claws extended, stood between the hyena and Farah.
“Off with you! The lady is with me.”
Farah groaned as the hyena ran. There went her chance at catching the Mangler and all due to a noble bystander. When were those ever really around? Never! Just her luck.
“Go after him! That’s the Mangler,” Farah shouted.
The tiger’s tail twitched, “Are you certain?”
Farah nodded, “Do I look stupid?”
“I’m sure the watch will catch him. I’m more concerned with you.”
Farah slapped a hand to her forehead, “I’m touched really, but I’m fine.”
“You’re still in shock,” the tiger said.
“No,” Farah retorted exasperated.
The tiger held up his hand, “It’s quite alright, Miss?”
Farah sighed, “Haraf.”
“Odd name. I am Nemr, perhaps you’ve heard of me? I am well known among the merchant circles.”
Farah had. In fact she might have robbed him at one point or another. He was still talking.
“Come let me take you to my home, I have guest rooms. It’s not safe here.”
Farah was about to tell him to piss off, but then she figured she could at least steal something from him and the night wouldn’t be a complete loss.
Smiling she walked to him, “Oh, thank you sir. You’re so kind. It was all so sudden! He came out of nowhere. Thank the gods you were nearby, such a noble and handsome tiger.”
He seemed to eat it all up as she smirked and buried her head in his chest.
“There, there. It’s alright now,” he said stroking her back.
“How can I ever repay you,” Farah said in an overdramatic sultry tone.
“We can discuss that later,” he replied picking her up in his arms.
“Oh, uh… you know I can walk just fine, right? I’m not injured,” she blushed beneath her fur.
But the tiger seemed oblivious to her protests as he carried her off. Soon they came upon an exquisite manor house in the middle of the city. Farah was mentally rubbing her palms together in anticipation. It actually seemed familiar to her, had she robbed it before? Maybe? It looked familiar.
They entered into a large foyer with elaborate furnishings. The definition of wealth being flaunted.
Finally setting her down, the Tiger grinned, “Make yourself comfortable. Would you like some tea?”
“Sure,” Farah replied.
She cursed herself for not having her darts on her and just the dagger. She looked around for something to steal and something heavy to knock him out with. Served him right for bringing a strange woman home.
As she looked around the elaborate space she noticed several portraits of tigers, some leading battles and some looking noble. There were also some fine tapestries, a bit too big to steal. Would she have to settle for something as trivial as silverware? How droll. Then she spied a priceless hand painted vase, which would do nicely.
As she looked around she heard something. It was not tea being made, but a bolt being drawn shut on a heavy door. The entrance.
“Nemr,” she called.
“I’m here,” the tiger said as he stalked through the doorway, his sleeves now rolled up to his elbows. “Admiring my vase, Haraf?”
Farah set it down, “Quite lovely, a relic from the far off lands isn’t it?”
The tiger’s tail twitched, “I’m impressed a commoner such as you knows that. Perhaps there is more to you than meets the eye?”
“There’s more than meets the eye with everyone,” Farah replied.
“How poignant,” Nemr replied. He cast an eye towards the portraits lining the wall. “Look at them all so proud. My family. All fools! Most of us are fools.”
Farah took a step back, “Are you drunk? Or… you’ve been smoking that flower stuff?”
Nemr continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “You know what I hate about these cities? We lie to ourselves about our true nature. Predator and prey. Predator and lesser predator. Kill or be killed. We’ve lost track of that mentality.”
“Sure,” Farah replied. “I’m just going to leave now.”
Nemr barred her path, “I don’t expect you to understand, but soon you will.”
“You’re the Mangler. You drugged the hyena as a way to present yourself as a big strong and caring man to poor helpless women,” Farah grunted as the tiger closed in on her.
Nemr checked his movement. His tail swishing, he seemed surprised, “Clever girl.”
Farah grasped the dagger, “So you’re clearly not right in the head. I won’t even bother asking you why.”
“I’ll tell you anyway, because I am doing what I am meant to do. Killing the lesser. It’s my birthright and role. My RRRRAAAAH!”
The tiger howled as he barely avoided getting stabbed through the heart. Farah’s dagger tip still pierced him, drawing blood. The ferret backed off, dagger at the ready. Nemr likewise put some distance between them.
“It’s not as much fun when they fight back is it,” she asked.
Nemr bared his teeth, “You’ll pay for that little ferret.”
“Oh, like I haven’t heard that before!” Farah shot back as she saw the tiger tense. Knowing what was coming Farah ducked and rolled forward as a shadow passed over her to crash against the sitting chair that was behind her.
Popping to her feet Farah ran as she heard growling and cursing behind her.
“Hey, Mr. Mangler catch me, if you can,” Farah called back as she ran, heedless of her skirts bunching up.
She made it to the end of the hall and turned sharply just as she felt claws rake her back.
“Damn, that stings!” Farah stumbled and fell from the blow.
Instantly, she rolled to her back and struck up with the dagger at the massive paw that was abound to rend her. Nemr howled in pain as he withdrew his paw. Farah stumbled to her feet.
“Do you know how hard you’ve made it for me to steal things with your little hunts,” Farah growled, her tail twitching.
Nemr snarled as he moved in, his claws digging into the wall as he drew closer. Farah stepped back.
“Not talkative anymore? Answer me one thing. If you like killing so much, why not just go to war?”
Nemr’s tail twitched, “That is not hunting.”
Farah smirked, “What you mean is, you’re actually a coward who wants his prey to be helpless instead of fighting him on even terms? Or did I miss something?”
The tiger sprang, bearing Farah to the ground. Claws and teeth tearing into fabric, fur, and flesh. Once seemingly able to pass for civilized, the tiger had descended into the full inner savagery. But his reddened paw stopped midstrike as he realized something wasn’t quite right. His limbs were feeling weak and something warm and wet was trickling down his side. In his rage, he’d forgotten she had a dagger.
The blade lay next to the thief red with his own blood up to the hilt.
“Damn, you…,” Nemr wheezed as he rolled off her and collapsed.
“Serves you right,” Farah chuckled despite the pain from her own wounds. Staggering away in her tattered dress, she made her way out of the house and into the fog. She’d counted on Nemr losing control, but she hadn’t quite been as prepared as she would have liked for his savagery.
Was she going to make it? She wondered as she plodded along. She couldn’t say for sure what transpired in her long trek through the city, but when she opened her eyes she was laying on a quaint cot.
“I take it you found him, yes,” Grisha asked hovering over her.
“I’ll take that as yes. Now you need to rest and let the herbs do their work, little Farah.”
“How much is this going to cost me,” Farah grumbled.
“Favor for favor, maybe you steal something nice and shiny for Grisha, yes?”
“Now that’s a bargain,” Farah winked.
She held up a gold ashtray, “How’s this for a start Grisha?”
In the days it took her to recover, life returned to normal on the streets. The Mangler had vanished and a prominent tiger merchant had been found murdered in his own home. Some said he was the Mangler’s last victim, but Farah and a few others knew the truth. Their muzzles turning to smirks whenever they heard the rumors. Eventually, Farah returned to the abandoned shack she’d stashed her loot.
The floorboards had been torn up. The loot gone.
“Oh, hells!” Farah raged.
“I do a good deed and this is the thanks I get?”
Nothing angered a thief more than being thieved upon.
Copyright Derek Cottrell 2020