From the online illustrated novel, Arcadia Snips and the Steamwork Consortium
The government bureaucrat’s waiting room had long since passed ostentatious, strolled beyond elegant, and waded through a pile of money back to ostentatious again. Long rows of books with impressive titles threatened to crush the many shelves beneath their weight. The upper walls were choked beneath framed diplomas and awards all clambering over one another to heap countless honorifics upon their owner, while the lower walls were crowded with extravagant panel moldings of flora and fauna. The area was illuminated by a gilt-covered gasolier and several windows lurking high out of reach, as if placed in a direct attempt to prevent the room’s occupants from escaping.
Present were four figures of note:
Kronan the Butcher; a solid block of muscle wrapped in a cheap suit and topped off with a battered cap. He was known both for his affinity for violence and his artistic sensitivity; his most recent work had received rave reviews. Entitled ‘Corpse Poetry’, it was a method of expressive corpse arrangement, allowing the artist to convey a variety of emotions and concepts. When he wrote a rather conservative piece using several critics who had treated his previous work harshly, the art community as a whole suddenly discovered a newfound respect for his unappreciated genius. He sat upon a comfortable armchair, remaining perfectly still.
Taz the Burr; a contortionist with a constant smile fixed to his face and an affinity for aggressive property redistribution. He had reportedly broke into the Royal Treasury with nothing more than a rusty nail and his cheerful grin, then slipped on out the front door—tipping the guard on his way. He sat upon a lovely side chair, remaining perfectly still.
Durden the Knife; a mysterious foreigner who wore a hooded robe that sharply contradicted the stuffy coats and jackets of his contemporaries. He preferred the pearl-lined hilts of his razor-edged scimitars to the cool grip of a pistol; according to the rumors, he had once dodged a bullet. He sat in an open cot, remaining perfectly still.
And finally, the man in black. He possessed all the lethargic grace of a long-toothed alley cat, with the scars to match—and his head was shaved as smooth as glass. He wore a pitch-black long coat and stood at the back of the room, rolling a cigarette. His nose was made of bronze and hooked like a vulture’s, attached to his face by glue and several crude looking bolts.
The door opened. A slender gentleman with over-sized spectacles stepped in, reading off a clipboard. “Now, I believe we’re ready to discuss the matter of your payment, gentlemen—”
Something was wrong. He leaned forward, inspecting the scene. There was far too much perfect stillness. Reaching for the nearby gasolier valve, he turned it up and bathed the room in an orange glow.
Kronan the Butcher was currently slouched back over his chair, a dozen knives emerging from his ribcage like the back ends of tacks stuck through a notice. His jaw had dropped, his eyes wide and glazed.
Taz the Burr was still smiling, but his head was all that was left of him. He had been smoothly decapitated and pinned to the chair with a knife through his hair; there was no sign of the body.
Durden the Knife had been shot in the mouth; fresh trails of smoke trailed up from his nostrils. Someone had taken the additional liberty of breaking his scimitars and forcibly jamming the hilts down his smoldering throat.
”Excuse me,” the official began, stifling an uncomfortable cough. “Might I ask what has transpired here?”
”Cancer,” said the man in black.
”Cancer?” This took the official by surprise.
”It’s a silent killer.”
”You are telling me that your fellow assassins died from cancer?”
”Can’t beat cancer, can you?”
”Can you explain, then, why they look as if they have been victims of violence? I do believe that one’s body is, in fact, missing.”
The man with the metal nose finished rolling his cigarette and lit it with a flick of flint and steel. The tip unraveled into threads of fragrant smoke. “Very dire cancer.”
”Huh. I suppose that means there’s only the matter of your payment, then.”
”Funny thing. They left explicit instructions for their share to be given to me in the unlikely event of their deaths,” the man announced. He drew a rolled up contract out of his coat and tossed it the official’s way.
The official snagged the document and unrolled it, looking it over critically. “All three of them, while dying—”
”From cancer,” the man in black reminded him.
”—found the time to write out and sign a document bequeathing their portion of the reward to you.”
”Heroes to the last.” He drew a deep and hungry breath, soaking his lungs in the smoke’s bitter tang. “Examples to us all.”
”I see. Well, then.”
The official smiled meekly. “Everything looks to be in order. This way, please.”
”I must admit. I’ve never met an assassin as—as—”
”As direct about things,” Bartleby confessed.
The bureaucrat’s office was a typhoon of paperwork, books, gifts, trophies, and other meaningless detritus that had apparently gathered around him not through any conscious work but merely by his sheer magnetism when it came to useless junk. The assassin was sure that if he spent hours digging through the piles of self-important knick-knacks that surrounded him, he’d never find so much as a functional bottle-opener.
The assassin relished his cigarette like others might enjoy a fine meal, allowing the smoke to languish across his tongue and throat. When he spoke, he was sluggish and calm, but beneath every drugged syllable lay the threat of cold steel.
”Speaking of direct. Pay me.”
”Oh, yes. Your payment. My employee told me you’ll be accepting the shares of your companions. They died? Very tragic.”
”I’ll send flowers. Pay me.”
”Of course, of course.” Bartleby swelled up to his feet, wobbling about. The man wasn’t just overweight. He had long flown past the boundaries of polite obesity on a rocket-propelled sled, making a rude gesture on the way. The man was an amorphous blob. He waddled to the far side of the room, shoving aside a few trophies to get at the safe. “I must admit, it’s been an exceptional thrill to have a legend working for me.”
The man in black amused himself by imagining how Bartleby would look as he tumbled out of his own office window. “Oh? You’ve heard of me?”
”Of course I’ve heard of you! Who hasn’t? You’re a downright legend around these parts, sir!”
”Good to know.”
”In fact,” Bartleby continued, fiddling with the safe’s lock. “I have all your books. I must say, they’re quite good. Do you write them yourself, or does someone else write them for you?”
“Books?” The man’s eye twitched. His mouth began to spasm. Oh, God. Please, no, he thought to himself. Please make him shut up. Make him shut up right now.
”Yes. I’ve read them all. I’m quite the fan. Although I
always I thought you’d be taller, in all honesty…”
The assassin turned around in his chair, staring at Bartleby’s back. If the city bureaucrat could have seen him, he would have recognized a look of such pure murderous sociopathy that it might have killed him on the spot.
The safe clicked open. Bartleby reached inside, fishing out a bundle of cash. “Well, anyway. Truly, it’s been an honor to have the legendary Von Grimskull working for m—”
One moment later, people on the street looked up in surprise as a window on the top floor exploded. A screaming fat man soon emerged, flailing his arms for a good second before slamming into the ground with a sound best described as ‘incredibly moist’.
Bristling with weapons, the guards kicked down the door and stepped into the room.
Present were three details of note:
Bartleby, their employer, was missing.
The very large window behind Bartleby’s desk was currently broken.
In Bartleby’s place was a very angry man. An angry man currently holding a pair of fully loaded pistols and wearing a sinister bronze nose.
”Cancer,” the assassin croaked.
”Holy mother of pearl,” one of the guards yelped. “Do you know who that is?!”
”That’s Von Grimskull!”
The assassin sighed, drawing the hammers back with a swipe of his thumbs.
Several minutes later, the assassin emerged from the building and stepped out into the busy street. He made his way to the post office, heading straight away to the mail box he had rented. As he pulled out the key to unlock it, he found one of the
men who worked there sliding an envelope into the slot.
”Good morning, sir,” the courier cheerfully sang.
”Mm.” The assassin edged his way past the mail-man, opening the box and drawing out the envelope. He tore it open with a finger. Inside was information on his next target—a small-time crook and current escapee by the name of Arcadia Snips.
”Hope you’re having a pleasant day,” the courier said. “By the way, has anyone ever mentioned you have the same nose as that fellow from those books? I think his name was Von Gri—”
Never lifting his eyes from the document, the assassin drew his pistol from the holster under his coat. The hammer slipped back with a sharp and punctuated click.
Suddenly overcome with a wave of wisdom, the courier snapped his mouth shut and went along his way.