Kiren jostled around the inside of the carriage compartment, cursing the blond, handsome man with every derogative his mind had to offer.
He was still slowed by his injuries, so Haden had decided to run ahead and call a carriage from the estate.
His stomach flared up with every pothole and sharp turn, a burning pain that would last for upwards of a minute before slowly fading. His nails left grooves in the wood paneling next to the seats where he held on for support.
Yup, definitely shitting blood tonight, he thought bitterly.
The driver was a sullen old fool with thinning, white hair. He wore a stiff, long-sleeved coat dyed a repulsive mustard-yellow. He had ignored all of Kiren’s prompts to slow down, keeping his eyes firmly on the road ahead. Kiren glared at the back of his neck through the small slot in the closed compartment.
“Have you ever been to the Estate?” Lace asked Tommyn, who was sitting opposite them.
“Only once or twice,” Tommyn said. “My f-f-father, he’s fairly well-off. I grew up in a small m-mansion. The Estate, it’s…” He shook his head. “It’s s-something else.”
The driver stopped only a few minutes later and Kiren breathed a sigh of relief. Lace got the door open so he could finally clamber down onto solid ground.
He stood on a large, cobblestone yard, decorated at the edges with statues of warriors with weapons raised and fountains that stood dry.
Before him stretched a stone structure that reached to the edges of his vision on both sides, five or six stories tall. The stone was white as marble, with joins so hair-fine they were almost invisible. Carved stone pillars out front held up a domed, ceramic roof the color of dark copper. The pillars had been carved at the top to depict grave-faced men with statuesque physiques, struggling to hold up the roof.
A hundred, perhaps two hundred glass windows had been set into the side of the building, facing the street behind them. Velvet curtains behind the glass offered the milky facade a bit of color.
A garden ringed the yard and the estate itself, planted with rows of thorny bushes and bunches of wildflowers growing amid the grass, as well as stately trees at the edges. Several smaller buildings stood near the main one. Less ornate, yet constructed from the same simple, yet graceful jointless stone architecture.
The driver stepped off the coach and gestured to the estate with a grand bow, wholly deadpan.
“May I present, for your pleasure and delight,” the man said in a dull, nasally tone, “the Trodvis Winter Estate.”
“Creator’s dangly balls,” Kiren muttered, trying and failing to take in everything before him. “Looks like someone’s trying to have a dickfighting competition with the Second Sun.”
Haden burst out of the double front doors and leapt down the shallow stone steps two at a time. He met them halfway across the yard, smiling like a puppy given too much attention.
“You look suitably awestruck,” he said, guiding them eagerly towards the entrance. “The Trodvis keep a vassal family known as the Masons close at hand for any architectural endeavors. Their name is, well… rather descriptive. They are very good at their jobs, as you can see.” He motioned to the smooth walls and exquisite statues.
There were few things that riled Kiren up more than rich fops carrying on about how splendidly wealthy they were. He considered punching Haden in the nose, but Lace slipped her hand in his and squeezed it tight. She smiled up at him, but her eyes were a stark warning.
Try it, they seemed to say. See how well that turns out for you.
Kiren decided to refrain from doing anything that would make Lace move up from stern looks.
“Alright, let’s get you inside,” Haden said, practically jumping up and down. “Vendrig, you need any help with the horses?”
The driver displayed his first instance of a smile. “It’s quite alright, Master Haden. “I will be inside shortly in case you require anything.” He patted one of the horses on the side of the neck and offered a deep bow.
Haden nodded and led them all through the doors.
“That’s Vendrig, the housekeeper,” he explained. “He keeps things running around here. He’s in charge of the servants and guards, as well as making any executive decisions while no Trodvis is close at hand.”
They walked into an open hall with a high ceiling, a pair of vaulted staircases leading up, with doors to the left and right. Their shoes clacked on the marble floors, the only sound that could be heard over the dead silence.
“It looks pretty empty in here,” Kiren said, looking through the doorways on both sides and finding no one.
“You’d be right on that account. No one’s here for most of the year, apart from a servant staff to keep things in reasonable shape and a skeleton crew of guards. It’s called the Winter Estate for a reason, after all.”
“I see,” Lace said.
Haden turned so that his back faced the staircases and rubbed his hands together.
“Now, why don’t I give you a mini-tour of this place before we talk shop? The armory’s in the back, anyway, so…”
Kiren rolled his eyes. He was eager to see this to its conclusion as quickly as humanly possible, but Lace, predictably, was all smiles and nods.
Haden led them for a meandering tour of the first floor, showing off one grandiose room after another. There was a kitchen rivaling that of the Lodge, if not exceeding it in terms of sheer size, but was staffed only by a pair of chefs working on lunch for the guard staff.
There were sitting rooms, private rooms, even a dueling room. They all started to blend after a while, and their possible uses became more and more difficult to parse.
Kiren struggled to keep up, holding his burning stomach.
They walked through a giant ballroom which could easily have accommodated two-hundred people. Their shoes clacked on the polished floors, echoing off the tapestry-laden walls and high ceiling. A servant worked in the corner, scrubbing at a square of floor space with a rag. She greeted Haden with servile meekness, asking him to have a good stay.
A twinge of guilt hit Kiren as he walked past the young woman, prostrated like a slave. He flipped her a copper, and she caught it in both hands. She frowned at the coin in her hands, then gave Kiren a look as if he had just taken a shit on the floor.
He quickly moved on, catching up with the others.
He felt sheepish for his attempt at nobility.
She’s a servant for a noble house. Probably has a lot more money than I do.
Finally, they reached the back of the estate, which opened up into a large hall. The walls were solid stone, with no windows to cast light from the outside.
A heavy oaken door awaited them to the left, set with a heavy lock, and a vaulted door of solid metal to the right, which sported two locks. Haden produced a large, brass key and inserted it in the door to the left, opening it to a well-stocked armory filled with racks of different types of weaponry and dummies bearing pieces of armor.
Even Kiren had to be a little impressed as he entered. He touched a greatsword hanging from the wall—almost as tall as he was—with a long, leather-wrapped handle designed to accommodate two hands and a sturdy blade that could probably lop limbs off with no problem if you had the momentum on your side.
“Pick out anything you want, guys,” Haden said, milling aimlessly about the room. “I’ll have Vendrig replace whatever you take.”
Tommyn looked utterly lost, a pair of birds screaming inside his green mop of hair. Haden guided him along and helped him pick out a shortsword that fit his hand neatly, along with a chainmail that would go underneath his shirt and protect him from most stabs and slashes, at least from smaller weapons.
“Wow, this place is amazing,” Lace said with a rapt smile on her face, spinning slowly in place. “Isn’t it, Kiren?”
He let out a noncommittal grunt.
“Oh, come on. You have to admit, this is pretty nice.” She plucked a helmet off a dummy and stuck it on him, his breaths making tinny echoes in his ears.
He ripped the helmet off and threw it aside with a scoff.
“It’s alright,” he said. He plucked the greatsword off the wall, giving it a few tentative swings.
It was surprisingly light, given its length. He would have expected a greatsword to be a massive, unwieldy thing, but it was nimble enough to use both for stabbing and cutting, and his arms didn’t feel strained when he put it down.
He decided to take it. It wasn’t like they were going for a stealthy approach, anyway.
“Oh, that,” Haden said, walking over. “Only really seen it used for dueling. Not much good to a guard facing down a thief looking to get lucky.” He handed Kiren a simple scabbard with a single back strap. “Here. Just sling that over your shoulder so it’s easy to reach if you need it.”
Kiren nodded. He tried to think of something witty to respond with, but failed to think of anything before Haden moved off.
Lace picked out a brigandine shirt of interlocking metal plates. Bulkier than chainmail, but less so than plate. She got herself a shortsword as well alongside her staff, just in case.
Tommyn kept his chainmail and shortsword and neglected to pick anything heavier, stating that he wouldn’t be doing much fighting anyway.
Haden chose brigandine, paired with a longsword and a round shield painted in the black-and-red Trodvis colors, worn on the hip.
Kiren stuck with just the greatsword. Armor would only slow him down, given that his Power could protect him from almost any injury.
“Alright, are we set?” Haden asked, looking around at the others.
“Pretty sure, yeah,” Lace said.
“Mmhmm,” Kiren said.
Haden smiled. “Good. Then let’s go hunt ourselves some Villains.”