32. The Master Thief
Jorge stared out of the window with his one good eye, remembering better times.
The weather was sunny and nice, but little of that warmth reached his bed. His ruined eye burned something fierce, sending a thumping ache throughout his entire face.
His legs, however, felt numb.
And that was the worst part.
A songbird landed on the windowsill. It had a little skip around and tweeted happily as if to taunt him.
He reached for the bottle next to the get-well flower—put there by Lace— on the nightstand. He picked it up and shook it. Empty.
He sighed and let the bottle fall. His vision was blurry and swaying. He’d drank so much he thought he might throw up.
It still wasn’t enough to take the edge off.
What would you think of me now, Reya? he thought bitterly. Would you be proud of me? Or would you be disgusted?
Jorge had a sneaking suspicion that he already knew the answer to that question.
There was a knock on the door.
Jorge kept quiet and pretended he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the mood for company.
There was another, more urgent series of knocks.
“Master?” Lace’s voice sounded. “Master, are you awake? It’s me and Kiren. We’d like your advice. On the Hyena and Snapjaw thing.”
Jorge muttered a curse under his breath.
I suppose I’ve got to let them in.
“Yeah, come in!” he shouted. His voice was more slurred than he would have expected.
Lace opened the door, and his two apprentices entered the room.
They were both wearing some kind of armor, and Kiren wore a greatsword in a sheath that he carried on his shoulder.
They were both covered in dried blood.
Of course they are. It would be too much to ask for something to go smoothly for once.
“What went wrong?” Jorge asked patiently. He folded his hands in his lap and peered at each of them with his single eye.
“We found Hyena and Snapjaw,” Kiren said, “but it seems they made a new friend.”
Jorge perked up. “And who might that be?”
“A Power user,” Lace said. “A strong one. He seems to have recruited our targets to his cause.”
“I see. What did he look like? I might know of him.”
“Kinda tall and lanky,” Kiren said. He set aside his greatsword against the wall and rolled his shoulder. “Bad hair, bad teeth.”
“Bad smell,” Lace added. “He said his name was Magpie.”
Jorge nodded. “Used to run with the Thieves’ Guild.”
“Yeah. You know of him, then?” Lace asked.
“Only by reputation,” Jorge said. “Back in his glory days, he used to be one of their most prolific robbers. Us Heroes have had a few near misses with him, but he always slipped out of our grasp. He’s been laying low ever since. It’s believed he fell out with his Guild.”
“Well, we interrogated his sister, and she thinks he’s planning something big. She said he’s going to use Hyena and Snapjaw as added muscle on that job.”
“What makes you think this woman is a credible source?” Jorge asked. “She’s his sister, like you said. She might well be working for him.”
“Kit’s a healer,” Kiren said. “A good healer. A good woman, at that. She wants to make a deal with the Heroes’ Guild.”
Jorge snorted. “That’s nice for her. Sadly, we don’t have any need for a back-alley charlatan.”
“She’s got a Power, too,” Kiren objected. “Might I remind you that you recruited a former Dark Eye member to be your apprentice. You shouldn’t have any qualms about this woman. She’s already given us valuable information on Magpie.”
Jorge perked up at that. “Is that so? What kind of Power does she have?”
“Well, she healed us up good after Hyena and Snapjaw gave us the slip,” Kiren said, rolling his shoulder.
“She seems to have the ability to transfer life force from one living organism to another,” Lace said. “She used potted plants to heal us. The plants would grow brown and withered, and at the same time our wounds would be restored.”
Jorge’s one eye widened slightly. He struggled to contain his sudden excitement.
Kiren and Lace may just have bumbled into something good here. Having a third healer to complement Good Doctor and Songbird would be invaluable.
“Let’s hear the information she gave you, first of all,” Jorge said. “Then I’ll make a decision on what to do with her.”
“Well, she doesn’t know specifically where Magpie went,” Lace said. “As we said, she told us he’s planning to come out of hiding for something big. A heist that’ll pay in gold, specifically. Those are the words she used. In gold.”
Jorge stroked his chin. “Hmm, that narrows things down significantly. There are only a handful locations in Goldbrand that carry much gold at all.”
“We still don’t know which one he’ll hit, though,” Kiren said.
“Well, you can exclude a few right away. He’s not targeting the Second Sun, that’s for sure. Even with some extra muscle on his side, he’s unlikely to get through even the regular guards stationed there, but the royal guard would definitely cut him down quick.
“Wiseman’s Temple is similarly off limits. Battlepriests and are no slouches. Not to mention the Purifiers, of course.
“The Lodge is very much the same, for obvious reasons.
“I wouldn’t target the Palace of Silks if I were him, either. Many men have tried to rob the Merchants’ Guild’s stronghold. None of them still have their freedom. The clever thieves have learned to avoid such pursuits.”
“What about the ones that are left?” Kiren asked. “Surely, there are some merchants and nobles in the city who have a good bit of gold stashed away. How are we supposed to keep an eye on all of them?”
“That’s not my job, is it?” Jorge asked. “It’s your neck on the line, not mine.”
Kiren and Lace both sighed.
“We understand,” Lace said. “Thank you for your help, Master. We’ll try and get to the bottom of this.”
Jorge nodded. “Go talk to Wordsmith. She’ll help you find some more information about Magpie’s Power and fighting style. Other than that, you’re on your own.”
Lace and Kiren nodded to the affirmative.
Jorge held up a finger. “One more thing before you take your leave. I have some bad news.”
“Oh boy, here we go,” Kiren said. “What’s happened this time?”
“One of the warehouses housing the Angel’s Kiss Hulda was smuggling throughout the city has been attacked,” he said. “Seven guards were killed, along with the two C-Rank Heroes in charge of cleanup—Bluster and Squall. The warehouse itself was completely emptied.”
“Evangel,” Lace said. “It must be him.”
Jorge nodded. “He’s the prime suspect, yeah. Right now, we haven’t found hide nor hair of him. All that remains is to see what he plans to do with all that Angel’s Kiss.”
“What can we do about it?” Kiren asked. “We need to hunt that bastard down.”
“Right now, just focus on not getting kicked out of the Guild. We’ve got people working on the Evangel case, led by Eagle-Eyes. Speaking of which…” Jorge nodded towards the door. “You should probably get back to it. I just wanted to give you an update.”
The apprentices took their leave. Kiren grabbed his sword and throwing it over his shoulder.
Jorge let himself slump once they turned away.
Lace stopped in the doorway and looked back.
“Master?” she asked.
“Yes?” Jorge grumbled. “What is it now? Won’t you let an old man rest?”
“Are you… okay?”
Jorge forced a grin. “Fit as a fiddle.”
Lace nodded and left, closing the door after her.
Jorge let out a long, tired sigh.
I hope I can join you soon, Reya.
Kiren and Lace met back up with Haden and Tommyn in the main hall to eat and confer.
“Excelerate helped us find out a little more about Magpie’s Power,” Lace said. “We spoke to Wordsmith, who had a dig through Records for us. Apparently, he has the ability to pull small objects within a set distance towards himself, so long as it’s a straight line to the palm of his hand.”
Haden looked down at his food. He stabbed a potato over and over with his fork, frowning deeply.
“That sounds complicated,” he said.
“Just think of it this way,” Lace said. “Next time we face Magpie, let’s not bring anything smaller than the size of an outstretched hand. Otherwise, he’ll just use it against us. He doesn't kill, though. The Guild hasn't logged any murders attributed to him, which matches what we've seen of him so far.”
“He killed my friends,” Tommyn muttered. “I hate him.”
“You’ll have a chance at revenge soon enough,” Kiren said. “We just need to figure out where he’s going to strike and be there waiting for him. Personally, I’m thinking he’ll go for the House of Eyes. There’s just a bunch of geezers in there, but the place is jam-packed with valuable equipment. I’ve considered skimming the place myself, back in my less reputable days.”
“I disagree,” Haden said. “Knowing the ins and outs of the place, I think he would target the Trodvis Winter Estate.”
Kiren snorted. “Sure are quick to cover your own ass, aren't-cha? Are you sure you don’t just want to make sure those family jewels stay extra safe?”
Haden stuffed a whole potato in his mouth, followed by a healthy heaping of fish. He chewed with his mouth open and washed it all down with a big drink of water.
“No, actually,” he said. “I just happen to know that my family’s estate houses a large portion of gold coins. The House of Eyes has valuables in it, sure, but good luck selling off scientific instruments to a Slog-side fence.
“Secondly, the estate only has eight dedicated guards in the summer, whereas the House of Eyes has security somewhere in the dozens.
“Thirdly, Magpie is already a master thief. What could he use Hyena and Snapjaw for? They would only get in his way, especially if he was trying to infiltrate a decently guarded place like the House of Eyes.”
“I dunno,” Kiren said. “I’m assuming you’ll tell me.”
“The vault in the Winter Estate needs two keys to open. I have one. Titaness has one. My father and grandfather have one each, as well as the housekeeper, Vendrig. Now, I don’t care how good of a thief this guy is, he’s not getting the better of my aunt. My father and grandfather are in Klyfva, so Magpie’s not getting their keys. That leaves me and Vendrig.”
Haden reached inside his shirt and pulled out a brass key hung around his neck by a piece of twine. “As you can see, I still have mine. So Magpie can’t unlock the vault.”
“So?” Kiren asked, frowning. “If it’s that much hassle to get into the vault, that just speaks against your theory. At least, with the House of Eyes, he could just pop in and steal everything. If things go south, he could use Hyena and Snapjaw as backup.”
“If he can’t get into the vault himself…” Haden said. “Why not take on a pair of giant henchmen? Now, the vault is strong, but it wasn’t designed to hold up against a pair of monsters like that.”
“They could rip the vault door right off its hinges!” Lace exclaimed. “Of course! That must be what he’s planning!”
Kiren leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
He hadn’t touched his food.
Of course she sides with him.
Kiren glared across the table at the broad-shouldered, handsome, fair-haired man.
The worst part was that Haden was making sense.
“Whatever,” Kiren said. “We should at least hear with the city guards if Magpie might be targeting any other places.”
“That’s fair,” Lace said. “It could help us narrow things down, at least. Only problem is, I think we’ve kind of made enemies out of guard force at this point.”
Haden cleared his throat. “Well, Kiren did.”
Kiren was about to stand up and sock the big man one across the face, but Lace put a hand on his leg and held him down.
“No worries, though,” Haden said. “We’ll go talk to Captain Renalt outside the Lodge if you head to the Estate and hold down the fort. Sound good to everyone?”
“Sounds good,” Lace said.
“Yup,” Kiren forced out.