Toy Story, Part 1

Hex was curled in the darkness at the bottom of the rucksack, clutching his stomach. He slid sideways as Locksley peeled away from traffic and parked. The boiler hissed softly as Locksley shut off the ignition and dismounted from the motorcycle.

"Are you done sulking? We're here," Locksley said as she pulled the rucksack from her shoulders, the canvas cloth muffling her voice.

Hex squinted against the sudden intrusion of sickly purple light as Locksley unfastened the toggles and peered inside. "Splendid. Go on without me," Hex said, shaking his head.

"Come on, you big baby, what could be easier than collecting a relic from some little old lady? We could do this in our sleep."

Wrapping his prehensile tail around himself for comfort, Hex glared up at his best friend. "The last time you said that about a job, I lost a toe."

"So? It grew back. Most people would be delighted to find out their regeneration experiments had paid off. So...you're welcome," Locksley said.

"Just leave me alone to die," Hex rolled over, turning his back to Locksley. "And don't let anyone touch any of my things when I'm gone."

"Stop being such a drama queen." Locksley reached into the bag and hauled Hex out by the collar of his brocade vest.

Hex squinted, his vision tinted by nauseating hues of violet and lavender. "I'm taking sick leave," he said, covering his eyes with his paws.

"If I let you take sick leave every time you were convinced you were dying, you'd never leave your room," Locksley said, depositing Hex onto her shoulder. She tossed her leather helmet onto one of the motorcycle's handlebars, the chrome beast's steam pipes glinting in the sun.

"Fine. Don't mind me. I've only been poisoned." Hex lowered his paws to grip Locksley's jacket for balance. Hex glowered as Locksley waited at the curb for an opening in traffic. Locksley stood with her hand resting on the butt of the blunderbuss pistol wedged in the belt on her pinstripe trousers.

Locksley rolled her eyes. "No one's ever died from ingesting monochromium, so dial down the crazy, will you?" she said as an automobile lumbered past them. Brass pipes flowed from its engine compartment to curve along its arched fenders. "Besides, that barista said it would wear off in a few hours."

"How very reassuring. The pimply youth who couldn't tell me apart from some little blonde girl thinks I'll be fine," Hex said through clenched teeth. He held fast to his perch as Locksley hurried across the street, boots clacking on the cobblestones.

Locksley snorted, hopping onto the sidewalk. "Imagine how disappointed that little girl will be when she realizes the only addition to her drink was extra cream. Now, suck it up. We have a job to do," she said, stopping in front of a store, the words Mabel's Magical Toy Shop engraved in playful characters on the sign.

Hex picked at a loose thread on his knickers, his large, pointy ears twitching as a woman wearing a bustle dress ambled past leading a clockwork poodle with hydraulic legs. "How would you like it if you had to spend your afternoon seeing the world through lavender lenses?" he asked, tapping the goggles perched at a jaunty angle atop Locksley's unruly nest of sapphire hair.

Locksley swatted at Hex's paw. "Don't smudge those. They're a gift." Locksley pushed open the door, a silver bell tinkling overhead as she stepped inside. She paused as their eyes adjusted to the dim interior.

"I'll be right with you!" a woman called from the backroom.

Hex lowered his voice, continuing her conversation with Locksley. "They're lovely. Did Tran swipe them from anyone we know?"

Locksley flipped the sign in the window to Closed and twisted the deadbolt. "Have you ever noticed how judgmental you get when you've been drugged?"

Hex gazed around the empty shop, the few gas lamps ensconced along on the walls casting an ominous light over the rows of toys on dark shelves along the walls. "This place isn't at all creepy."

"Wuss."

Hex glanced at a jack-in-the-box lying on its side on the shelf a few inches away. The lid was open, and the jester was sprawled on the ledge. The jester winked at him, and Hex's tail involuntarily curled itself around Locksley's jacket collar like a safety rope. Hex glanced sideways to see if Locklsey had noticed it too, but her gaze was on a model dirigible hanging from the ceiling. Turning back towards the jack-in-the-box, Hex watched for another sign of movement as Locksley strolled towards the service counter, but the toy remained motionless.

Scratching his head, Hex turned as the backroom door opened and a small, wizened old woman bustled out carrying a large tin soldier in the crook of her arm.

"Mabel, I presume," Locksley said.

"Indeed I am, and how are you on this fine day?" Mabel smiled as she walked around the counter and set the soldier on one of the shelves opposite the service counter, adjusting its limbs just so.

"Splendiferous." Locksley smirked sideways at Hex. Hex responded with a rude gesture.

"That's nice, dear," Mabel said without a trace of irony as she turned to face Locksley.

"My, what an unusual familiar you have there," she said, reaching out to pat Hex's head.

Hex bared his sharp little teeth and hissed. "You wanna lose that hand, granny-pants?"

Mabel snapped her hand back, blinking.

Locksley shrugged her shoulder, jostling Hex. "You'll have to excuse my minken. He's been in a bad mood ever since his drink order got messed up."

"I'm not your minken. If anything, you are my Fury."

Mabel glanced back and forth between Locksley and Hex uncertainly, patting the gray hair pulled back in a bun on top of her head.

Locksley pulled a tin box the size of a set of playing cards from her breast pocket and held it up for Mabel to see. "I'm looking for this," she said, tapping the etching on the front of the box.

Mabel frowned, pulling a set of reading spectacles from her apron pocket. Perching the spectacles on her nose, she leaned forward to inspect the image of a pocket compass carved into the box's surface. Shaking her head, she smiled indulgently. "I'm sorry, dear. I don't carry compasses, just toys, you see."

Locksley sighed and put the tin back in her pocket. "It's a very specific compass. And I heard from a reliable source you have it. It's imperative I retrieve it."

Mabel shrugged. "I'm sorry I can't help you, Miss..."

"Apologies. Allow me to introduce myself." Locksley pushed back her right jacket sleeve to reveal the leviathan tattoo curled around her forearm. The sea serpent writhed on her golden skin as if alive, its jaw snapping audibly. 

Mabel flinched, her hand flying to her throat. "I don't have it, I swear."

"I think you do," Locksley said, releasing the spring loaded truncheon hidden in a secret compartment in her biomech arm. She caught the telescopic steel baton by the handle as it shot out of her coat sleeve.

Hex sighed. "Can we just get this over with, already?" he muttered under his breath. "I'm getting a headache."

"Please, you wouldn't hurt an old woman?" Mabel backed into the shelves behind her, her eyes misting.

"I wouldn't enjoy it, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it, either." Locksley shrugged.

"You despicable, vile monster." Mabel spat at Locksley.

Locksley's nostrils flared. "You know the rules about relics. So, don't get pissy with me, you nasty old rotter. "

"Rotter? ROTTER?!" Mabel flung her spectacles to the floor as her eyes turned black. Her hair stood straight on end, crackling as if she had laid her hand on a Tesla coil.

"Just some little, old lady?!" Hex hissed at Locksley.

"Did I forget to mention she's a ghoul?" Locksley raised her eyebrows, her face studiously innocent.

Hex felt his headache worsen. "You suck."

To be continued in Part 2.