34. Plan of Attack
“We have eight guards total stationed at the Estate,” Haden said, circling a diagram of the Estate that was pinned to the round table. “They’re good, strong lads, but most of them haven’t seen a lick of real fighting. I think it’s best to keep them out of it as much as possible and send them in to subdue Hyena and Snapjaw once we've worn them down.”
They were in a spacious sitting room with tall windows and heavy curtains. There was a large pitcher of lightly sugared lemonade on the table, and a servant would come in every once in a while to replace it.
“Sounds fair,” Kiren said. “We’ll still need someone to patrol the grounds, though. No way we can keep an eye on this whole place on our own.”
“We’ll keep four guards on watch throughout the night as usual,” Haden said with an affirmative nod, “so that nothing appears suspicious. We could keep the other four in reserve somewhere in the Estate and call them out when we need them.”
“We won’t be able to use Tommyn’s Power, though,” Lace said. “Last time, Magpie used his birds against him.”
“I c-could use larger animals,” Tommyn pointed out. “There’s p-plenty of stray cats in the city. I don’t want to pu-put any more of my friends in danger, though. They can only o-observe and carry messages.”
Kiren nodded. “Fair enough. That should do plenty, as long as Haden and I can hold up our end. We’ll serve as the front line, just like last time.”
The two locked eyes.
Kiren looked at Haden for a few long moments.
“We need to do better this time,” Haden said. “We need to act like we’re on the same team.”
Kiren glanced over at Lace, who nodded enthusiastically, and he cleared his throat. “I may… have been a little rough on you. Sorry about that. I’m ready to treat this like a team if you are.”
Haden cracked a big smile. “Been ready from the start. So, how do you want to split it?”
“My Power’s better against Hyena, I’m pretty sure,” Kiren said, stroking his chin. “I can put up with those claws and teeth. You can’t. He cut you up pretty bad last time.”
“True that,” Haden said with a nod. “And you don’t have the strength to go toe-to-toe with Snapjaw, so maybe we should swap.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“I can keep Magpie busy,” Lace said. “I’ll use my wind to knock his projectiles off-track.”
“Good plan,” Haden said. “Maybe—”
“I want to take Magpie down,” Tommyn said firmly, without a hint of a stutter.
Haden sighed deeply. He took a couple hard gulps of lemonade before answering. “Tom, we’ve talked about this. You can’t just throw yourself into the thick of things like that. You don’t have the—”
“Experience?” Tommyn asked. His moss-green eyes were narrowed, dripping with cold intensity. “I k-know that. And it doesn’t matter. He k-k-k…” He trailed off and took a deep breath. “He killed my friends. I can’t forgive that.”
“We’re not asking you to forgive him,” Lace said. She reached across the table and put a hand on his arm. “We’re just asking you to trust the rest of us in taking him down.”
Tommyn lowered his head. “W-What am I supposed to do, then? I feel useless.”
“We’ll get you a spear from the armory,” Haden said. “You can poke at the Villains from a safe distance.”
“You don’t need to treat me like a k-kid, you know,” Tommyn muttered. “I know I’m weak, okay? B-B-But I still want to fight.”
“We’re not treating you like a kid,” Lace said. “Since you don’t have a Power that lets you take hits like Haden or Kiren, it’s best for you to be cautious. One wrong move and you’re out of the fight, which means the rest of us are at more of a disadvantage. Besides, your Power is the only good way we have of signaling the guards when we want them to rush in. We can’t afford for you to get knocked out.”
Tommyn nodded slowly. He didn’t look satisfied, but he seemed to accept the decision.
“Now that we have all that figured out, where do we set up our ambush?” Lace asked. “We can’t just go chasing them around the whole Estate.”
“We could set up outside the vault, I guess, make sure nobody gets past us,” Kiren said.
Haden shook his head. “I think the ballroom is better. They’d have to go through there to get to the vault anyway. It’s got more room for me and Kiren to wail on Hyena and Snapjaw, and we can clear out everything in there so Magpie doesn’t have anything to nab.”
“Besides, more space means I’ll have more air to work with,” Lace pointed out. “I like it.”
Haden clapped his big hands together and stood. “Then let’s set everything up! We’re hunting Villains tonight, everyone.”
The Trodvis Winter Estate was surrounded by a field of winking stars upon the black blanket of night.
Magpie approached the large building with confident steps, circling behind a line of trees that ran around the edge of the cobblestone yard. Judging by the handful windows that held any light, the Estate was just as lightly manned as his stakeouts had led him to believe.
Hyena and Snapjaw, the two bumbling fools, sneaked furtively behind him. As furtive as two three-meter tall monsters could get, anyway.
“Y-You sure about this, boss?” Snapjaw asked, clutching his long, straight crowbar as he gazed up at the mansion. “This seems like it could land us in an awful lot of trouble.”
“We already have the Heroes after us,” Hyena said. “We don’t wanna go back to Wailing Hill.”
Magpie stopped and spun on his heel to face the two creatures.
“Once we get the gold inside that mansion there, you’ll never have to worry about the Heroes’ Guild ever again.” He hid his annoyance behind a mask of cool confidence. “You could go to another province, or move away from Aribel entirely. Money is the best protection a man can have.”
He wasn’t lying. He planned to move to Skhior, himself. With the knowledge he had of Aribellan dealings, he could possibly get himself taken on as an advisor to the king.
Of course, Hyena and Snapjaw weren’t vital to the plan. He was fairly confident that if it came to that, he could pick open the vault door himself.
But this method would be quicker, and it gave him certain… assurances.
Even if things went badly, he wasn’t going to get caught tonight.
“I thought we were giving some of it back to the people,” Snapjaw said in a slow, dull voice.
Magpie clenched his fists and swallowed a snide retort. “Yes, well, there will be plenty to go around. Hurry up, now. The quicker we can do this, the better.”
They snuck around the side of the building and reached the servant entrance, which Magpie had identified as the optimal entry point over the course of his many excursions to map out the place.
A guard stood by the single door in a simple uniform, a lantern in one hand and a spear in the other. He squinted into the darkness, muttered something, and turned around to start walking towards the back.
There were only four guards patrolling the premises, so the chances of running into another while taking down the first were slim.
Magpie made a gesture at Hyena, who sprung forward on silent paw pads. He brandished a short wooden club in one hand, which they had wrapped in leather to make a makeshift baton.
He approached the guard from behind, stalking along the stone wall. The man noticed the giant beast when he was right behind him and spun around with a yell, but before the guard had the time to ready his weapon Hyena brought down the baton over the side of his head.
The guard fell backward and Hyena caught him with one big hand, slowly lowering him to the ground.
“Sorry about that, mate,” he whispered. “You know how it is.”
Hyena extinguished the guard’s lantern and dragged the man behind a bush. In the meantime, Magpie sent Snapjaw to peek around the front and keep an eye out for more guards, while he himself approached the servant entrance.
He got on one knee and took out his pouch of thieves’ tools from a pocket stitched on the inside of his cloak. He began to pick the simple lock, feeling out the tumblers with his fine metal rods.
Another guard came around the front but Snapjaw snatched him before he could call for help and choked him out, then deposited him next to the first.
A stray cat watched them from atop a large tree branch, yawning as it peered down at them with the kind of bored contempt only cats could muster.
Magpie got the door open in less than two minutes. He entered into a combined dressing and storage room for the servants, and Snapjaw handed him the second guard’s lantern to shine the way as both the creatures squeezed in through the door.
Things were going smoothly. They headed from the dressing area, through the kitchens, into a lounging room. From there, it was just the ballroom, then the vault itself.
Magpie kept his improvised hook—which he had had Snapjaw bend from a metal bar he had stolen from the blacksmith and then sharpened to a point—wound around his right arm by a long bit of rope. It would make a decent weapon, if he needed it, and a good grappling hook in case he needed to make a quick escape.
“It’s eery in here,” Hyena whispered as they passed through darkened hallways and shadowy rooms filled with black silhouettes.
“Shh!” Magpie hissed. “No talking. You’ll tip us off.”
Hyena nodded and put a hand over his mouth.
They entered the expansive ballroom, their feet echoing across the smooth floor. Faint moonlight trickled in through the tall windows on their left-hand side.
Curiously, it was empty. Not a chair in sight—just empty floor space. Looking up, he could see the fitting where there had once hung a crystal chandelier.
What is going on here…? Magpie thought.
“Uh oh,” Snapjaw said, stopping in his tracks. “Is this part of the plan, boss?”
Magpie looked down.
Four indistinct shapes had lined up on the opposite side of the ballroom.
“No,” Magpie said. “It appears we have some interference. Ready yourselves for a fight.”
He began to unwind the hook from his arm.