When nobody spoke, Tip asked, “What’s odd?”
“All the rest of the names have tally marks next to them, but Flint’s has a word instead.” Kerrick squinted. “It’s really bad handwriting. ‘Acpultice?’ ‘Apitance?’”
“Acquittance,” growled Flint, brows lowered.
“What’s acquittance mean?” Sol asked.
“It means the barkeep here are still paying off a debt to me and they don’t care to advertise how large it is,” Flint told Sol, all the while keeping his eyes on Kerrick. “You saw it on the way in? I thought I’d brought you the other way around.”
“You did,” Kerrick said.
“His eyesight is really really good,” Tip told Flint.
Flint glanced at the curtain covering the doorway to the room, then shook his head as if to clear it. “Right. Well, I shan’t ask because I honestly don’t want to know.” He turned to Tip. “You got any surprises I should know about?” When Tip shook her head he turned to Val. “And I still haven’t found out what your deal is.”
“She changes how she looks based on who’s looking,” Tip summarised.
“Tip!” Val protested.
“What?” Tip shrugged. “If we’ve told Flint about Kerrick, why not about you?”
“And it’s involuntary?” Flint asked Val.
“Pretty much,” she blushed. The changes she’d gone through for Flint’s sake had faded somewhat but now they made a resurgence. When she looked up again her eyes were positively moss coloured.
Flint shook his head, grinning. “I’ll tell you, wherever that power comes from, it’s spot on.” His face grew sombre. “But you won’t get anywhere if you’re a frightened mouse with it. You have to use what it gives you.”
Val shrugged helplessly. “I can’t feel the changes. How can I know how to react to people when I don’t even know what they’re looking at?”
“What does it matter?” Flint asked. “Just assume people are looking at what they want to see and go from there.”
“Of course it matters!” Val exclaimed. “I think you’re looking at something you find beautiful and interesting, but what if what you really wanted to see was your lost granddaughter?”
“Steady on,” Flint said. “Granddaughter? Surely I don’t look that old.” When Val glared at him, he laughed. “Alright, I can see your point. I might know someone who can help.”
Help turned out to be a red-painted door that was opened by a beautiful brunette wearing a startling amount of leather. She leaned against the frame, glaring at Flint. “What is it this time?” Despite the coldness of her words, her voice had a sultry warmth and her dark eyes glittered in her luminescent face.
“Kitty!” Flint held out his arms, but the woman only regarded him with frosty indifference. He held up his hands. “Alright, I can see you’re still holding a grudge. I’ll count myself lucky a glare’s all you’re shooting me with.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m not here for me. It’s for this young lady.” He nudged Val forward. “Valerian. She’s got some sort of glamour shift ability. Needs some brass to go with it.”
Kitty gave Val a once-over, a spark of interest in her gaze. “Hmm,” she said.
“Changed herself for me, she did,” Flint continued.
“And I bet that didn’t do her the slightest bit of good,” Kitty said, still looking at Val. “Well I for one would like her better if she were blonde.”
Everyone looked at Val, whose hair was growing lighter by the second.
Flint cleared his throat. I’ll leave you to it then, shall I?”
Kitty smiled at Val and extended a hand. “Come in, my lovely. I think I can help you.”
Val took the offered hand and cast a doubtful glance back at Tip and the others before allowing herself to be gently tugged after Kitty into the house. The door slammed behind them.
“Right, that’s Copper sorted.” Flint dusted off his hands. “Next stop’s for you, Hawkeye.” They made a stop at a tavern that was even darker and dingier than the previous one and Flint had a muttered conversation with a man in a hood. After Kerrick made a similar demonstration of his abilities, the man eagerly agreed to take him on for the evening in return for two silvers.
“Where is Sol going to stay?” Kerrick wanted to know before they left.
“He’ll have the best spot of all,” Flint grinned. “I’m leaving him with my grandmother.”
“Grandmother?” Tip joked. “Surely you’re not that young.”
“Question is, just how old am I?” Flint winked.
It was a good question because the woman Flint introduced as his grandmother didn’t look a day over 40. “An apprentice!” she cooed when Sol was presented to her. “Such a lovely young boy. What’s your name, dear?”
“Sol,” said Sol. “Are you going to teach me to read people’s hands?”
“Goodness me, would you like to learn?” the woman asked.
“It’s just for the evening, Nana,” Flint said. “Don’t get too attached.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Nana sighed, absentmindedly stroking Sol’s hair. “My name is Floss. Nana makes me feel old.”
“Aren’t clairvoyants supposed to be old?” Flint asked.
“Not the way I do it,” she said. “Now young Sol, are you ready to unlock the secrets of the future?”
“Yes!” exclaimed the boy.
Flint turned to Tip. “And are you ready for some thievery?”
Tip grinned. “Can’t wait.”
The house she was to rob was big. Bigger and grander than anything in Grevick. It was set in a garden large enough to be an entire city block in itself and surrounded by a high, cream-coloured wall with fancy gates.
“I can see why this lady is so sure her husband will buy her a new jewel,” Tip murmured. She and Flint had climbed to the roof of a nearby building and were doing reconnaissance.
“Now the clients are at the theatre and most of the servants have the night off, so you’ll have an easy enough time of it,” Flint said. “As you can see, the gates are on a well-lit street and it’d be easy to spot anyone climbing them. Wouldn’t recommend them as an entry point. Climbing the wall’s tricky because it’s plastered smooth and spiked on top. If it were me I’d walk the circuit and find the best place to get over. Client said she’d leave a back bedroom window ajar, but in case she forgot, those casements look to be the type you can jimmy open without much trouble.” He handed Tip a long flat tool for the purpose. “Once you’re inside, look for the lady’s bedroom. The jewel is a big, round, sapphire pendant and it’ll be in the top tier of her jewellery box. Throw a few things around while you’re there to make it obvious there’s been a robbery, but don’t touch anything that might be valuable. If it were me I’d stick to soft furnishings. Less chance of them turning out to be a priceless heirloom.”
“Why isn’t it you?” Tip asked him. “You’re talking like you know your way around a burglary.”
Flint held up a hand and showed her a crooked thumb. “Nasty break. Didn’t heal right. Can’t trust my grip any longer.” He didn’t volunteer how the nasty break had happened. Tip decided she didn’t want to know. That was the second injury she’d learned about affecting Flint’s team. She wondered what the chances were of something similar happening to her, but immediately slammed the lid on those thoughts before her brain could give her an actual percentage chance. Another thing she’d rather not know.
“What are you going to tell the others if I don’t come back?” she asked.
Surprise flickered over Flint’s face. “Why wouldn’t you come back? Job’s as straightforward as they come.”
His genuine bewilderment lent Tip a boost of courage. “As straightforward as they come,” she repeated. Never mind that she hadn’t attempted anything this big or high-profile before. She had the skills and she’d finally found someone who was willing to reward them instead of scolding her. “Well, wish me luck!”
“Luck.” Flint winked. “The good kind.” He melted away into the night.
Tip turned to face her quarry and heaved another deep breath. Her palms were tingling, which was both a sign of heightened adrenalin and a disturbing indication of the onset of clammy hands. She wiped them on her clothes, giving herself only a 22% chance of getting through this job without the clamminess becoming a problem. At least my thumbs are intact, she told herself. It was mildly comforting.
Keeping to the shadows, Tip began a circumference of the wall looking for potential entry points. At roughly a quarter of the way around she came across a spot where an overhanging branch from a neighbouring tree and a concave corner in the wall combined to create promising climbing possibilities. She awarded the location a 76% chance of a successful climb and debated looking further in case there was a better spot later on. More looking meant more tension, which meant clammier hands, which meant rapidly diminishing chances of success. Giving the issue 0.3 more seconds of consideration, Tip rapidly made her decision. This was the spot.
She took a run-up at the corner, ran partway up the wall and bounced off at an angle so she could ricoche swiftly between the sides of the inward corner. Once she’d gained enough height, she grabbed the tree branch with one hand and pulled herself up onto it.
Now she was high enough, Tip could see the spikes Flint had warned her about. Anyone attempting to grab the top of the wall would get their hands ripped to shreds. Luckily her tree branch gave her an easy way past them. She slithered along the branch as far as she could, until it grew too thin to bear her weight, then grabbed a handful of flexible twigs and allowed herself to slide off the very end of it. The weight of her body dangling on the end of the branch caused it to bow over the wall, depositing her a short distance from the ground on the inside of the compound. She let go of the branch and dropped to the snow-sprinkled ground. The branch made a loud creak and rustle as it sprang back into place.
Tip crouched close to the wall and waited to see whether her arrival had attracted any attention. Nothing stirred in the dark garden. After a few more minutes, she left the spot she’d landed in and worked her way through the shrubbery to the back of the house.
Flint had said there would be a bedroom window left ajar but Tip couldn’t see any that were obviously so. She debated her options. She could climb to each window in turn until she found the right one (42% chance of success). She could climb to the easiest window and try to open it with the tool Flint had given her (54% success). Or she could look for another way in (unknown…).
In the interest of giving her third option an accurate rating, Tip scoped out the entire back of the building. In doing so she found a ground-level hinged grating that had been propped open. She crouched to peer into the opening. The room inside was slightly lower than ground level and appeared to be a scullery.
Could this have been the “window left ajar” that Flint had meant? Surely not. He’d definitely said it was a bedroom window. But time was passing, and the grating was a quick and easy way in.
After considering for 0.7 more seconds, Tip crouched and slipped inside the opening, dropping down into the room. She was in!
It was very warm in the scullery. A stove of glowing coals blasted out heat into the small room. As someone who had grown up with a constant shortage of winter fuel, Tip mentally disparaged the house owners for leaving the grating open and wasting all that heat. She crept across the floor, avoiding the laundry vats and racks of stored crockery. It wasn’t until she tripped over what she thought was a discarded blanket on the floor that things began to go downhill.
The blanket yelped and rolled over. Sprang to its feet. Began growling. Another blanket slunk out of the shadows, teeth bared.
- Graz, Austria
I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website: victoriakellywrites.com
I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.