Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Heist

The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 10

Robin tapped her fingers rapidly on the barrel she was pressing her shoulder against.  She was more nervous than she had ever felt, except for her time in the presence of King Dom.  She, Anzo, and Hudtan were across the street from the orphanage, ducking behind a row of storage barrels, in the dead of a warm night, about to enact their first heist.  It was something Robin had been dreaming about since she could first grab something that belonged to somebody else, but now she was so anxious that she couldn't keep her hands still.

"Gwynt should have returned by this time," Hudtan said.  They hadn't been bothering to keep their voices down.  The guards seemed to have abandoned their patrols for this area.

Robin peeked over the tops of the barrels, saw the empty street.  "How did you pick such a good time for this?"

"Easy," Anzo replied.  "It's late enough after dinner that we're not full, but not so late that we're starting to get hungry again.  The perfect time for gang-work."

It wasn't the answer Robin had sought, but she had a feeling that a satisfactory answer didn't exist.  The ease with which it looked like they would pull of this heist was probably just a coincedence.  Or perhaps it was just an easy heist, even for Bedlam.

Hudtan cracked the knuckles of her hands, one by one, while her eyes darted from the roofs and windows to the alleys and doors.  "After evaluation, I believe we ought to revise our plan," she said.

"We have a plan?" Robin asked.

"The plan is fine," Anzo said.  "We'll slip right past their defenses."

"That is what I meant," Hudtan said.  "My examination of the situation has revealed that they in fact do not have any defenses.  Our energy would be better spent reacting to whatever we find inside, than worrying about how we get into the target location."

"Was anyone planning on actually telling me the plan?" Robin asked.

Anzo pointed at the orphanage.  "The inside of that building is a mystery.  We have Gwyntmarwolaeth scouting it out, but he is just one man, and a stealthy one at that.  He can slip in and out without triggering their alarms and preventions.  To get the rest of us inside, we need to take the path least expected.  The left side of the building is very close to that brick one next door, looks like some sort of warehouse.  We can use that as a brace in order to climb up the side of the wall and enter the orphanage through the top floor window."  He took off the backpack he was wearing and opened it.  "I also have some rope."

Suddenly, a fourth body was next to Robin.  She jumped and let out a little yelp, but calmed herself when she saw Gwynt's golden hair, big green eyes, and innocent smile.

"My apologies for the stealthy return, cohorts," he said.  "I've done the scouting thing!  They're all fast asleep."

"I was correct," Hudtan said.  "It would behoove us to enter through the front door, Anzo.  Nobody's around, and nobody's watching inside."

Anzo put his hand over Hudtan's mouth.  "Good man, Gwyntmarwolaeth.  Did you locate where they keep most of their treasure?"

"No," Gwynt said, his face falling.  "They have it well hidden.  But we should have plenty of time before sunrise to find it."

Treasure in an orphanage?  Robin started chewing on a clump of her hair.  Anzo stood up, gave a quick survey of the street, then clomped across it and into the alley adjacent to the orphanage.  Gwynt quickly crept after him.  Hudtan sighed and followed, with Robin cautiously bringing up the rear.

The moonlight seemed to Robin to be focused entirely on her, illuminating her criminal activity for anyone to see.  She glanced over her shoulder at the buildings around the alley they emerged from.  No faces looked back, but it made her trip over her own feet and stumble into Gwynt in the alley between the orphanage and the warehouse.  He helped steady her and brush off the dirt from her armor.

Hudtan was not there.  Robin heard her voice from the front of the orphanage.  "Anzo, the door is unlocked."

"Hudtan Corynmirk!" Anzo said with a snarl.  "You get away from there this instant!  There could be all sorts of traps and wards protecting that door."

"I have my foot inside.  This seems quite effortless."

"Fine!" Anzo said.  He leaned back against the brick wall of the warehouse.  "Risk your life and limb for no reason!  You'll come crawling back to me when you have no legs, begging for forgiveness!"  He put his feet up against the side of the orphanage and began to climb by supporting his weight between the two walls.  "Of course I'll give it," he muttered.

Robin watched as the half-ogre, bulky with muscles, pounded his way up to the second story window.  He grasped the windowsill when it was within his reach, and using his enormous biceps, hoisted the rest of his body over the ledge.  Robin heard him make contact with the second floor.  Loudly.

There was a moment of calm while Robin and Gwynt stared up at the window.  Then Anzo's voice came hoarsely whispering down from above.  "I forgot the rope."

Robin looked down at the coil on the ground, but Gwynt cupped his hands and did his best to project a whisper up to Anzo.  "There's a second one in your backpack!"  He put his hands on his hips and gave Robin an apologetic look.  "He usually does this, so I make sure to pack him a spare."

"Are you sure everyone is asleep?" Robin said, shifting from foot to foot.

"Of course," Gwynt said.  "I made sure of it myself."

Robin nodded, but then stopped.  "You didn't poison the orphans, did you?"

"A poison is used to harm someone else.  When you only change their state of consciousness, it is called a draught."

"You draughted the orphans!"

"There's no war, Robin.  Trust me, I made sure that they were all completely safe."  He patted a pocket on his chest, then furrowed his brow and removed a vial that was completely full with a purple liquid.  He then began checking his other pockets.  "Hold on, why is it in that pocket...?"

Before Robin could throttle him, the rope leapt out the window and thumped against the orphanage.  Gwynt grabbed hold and began to climb, his feet stepping up the wall as if he were a spider climbing its thread.  He made not a sound until he got to the top and tripped over the windowsill on his way in, tumbling to the second story floor in what Robin assumed was a gangly heap of pointy limbs.  She swallowed a big gulp of anxiety and followed.

Anzo was waiting for her at the top.  When she had both her feet firmly on the floor, he put a hand on her back and said, in his gruff whisper, "Gwyntmarwolaeth is searching the rooms on the left, and I'll take the right.  You go to the first floor, and search there."

"What am I looking for again?" Robin asked.

Anzo shook his upturned palm in front of her face.  "Treasure!  Anything valuable that you can carry out!  We're heisting, dear Robin, not shopping."  With that, he suddenly fell into a crouch and sneaked into the first room on the right.  Robin, suddenly alone, gazed down the dark hallway, only patches of the floorboards illuminated by moonlight from the few windows.  She remembered the dark sewer corridor that Gwynt had trapped, and hoped that if there were any traps here, they would also be as harmless as his.  She then shook herself, remembering that she was in an orphanage.

Every floorboard seemed to be loose, making prolonged creaks as Robin put any amount of weight on them.  Every moment of silence seemed too silent, as if there were guards hiding behind each door, holding their breath until it was the right moment to strike.  But this is what Robin was born to do.  Her heart beat with as much excitement as fright.  She would finally steal something that wouldn't, you know, get stolen back from her five minutes later.

She passed a table that sat underneath a curtainless window. The moon looked like the eye of a giant, gazing inside, looking for fresh meat. Robin gave the desk a quick look to make sure there was nothing on it besides the dirty flowerpot and dusty hourglass, then crawled underneath. She didn't feel comfortable walking in the light. She bumped her head on the desk and thought to not worry about walking in the light next time.

Robin found the staircase, and crept down to the first floor. She found herself in the front hall. The front door was shut, but others leading farther into the building were gaping, spilling their darkness into the open. A gust of wind outside blew through the cracks in the wooden walls, whistling like a specter. Robin peeked through the nearest open door, hoping to see an obvious treasure that she could take.

She saw two white eyes staring back at her.

Robin yelped and stumbled backwards, but hands darted around her, preventing her from falling and grabbing her mouth to stifle any more screams. They turned her around, so Robin could see that the eyes belonged to Hudtan. They now looked incredibly irate.

"Are you attempting to proclaim our presence to everyone?” she hissed. “We are maneuvering towards the same goal!”

Robin calmed herself and nodded, though her heartbeat was pounding so fast that she needed to lean against the wall to stay upright once Hudtan let go. “You looked like a ghost.”

Hudtan laughed sarcastically, without smiling. “I'm not the one with skin so pale it looks dead,” she said. She then patted the pockets of her vest, and Robin heard a metallic rattling. “At any rate, I have gathered enough valuables to make my participation in this endeavor worth it.”

"What did you find?” Robin asked.

"A veritable trove of silverware,” Hudtan said. She opened her vest to show Robin, who would have used the term “ironware” to describe it instead. Hudtan nodded and closed her vest. “I am done, but I have not searched beyond that door,” she said, pointing towards the farthest side of the entrance room. “I want to leave my hands free, since Anzo shall likely insist upon all of us exiting the same way he entered. Speaking of which, where are the others?”

Robin looked over her shoulder at the staircase. “Anzo and Gwynt are looking upstairs.” She then eyed the front door, where Hudtan had entered. “So, you didn't run into any...traps?” she said, hearing how stupid it sounded, but wanting to make sure just to be safe. Hudtan simply shook her head and moved for the staircase.

"I'm going to go inform them of my success,” she said. “Please, do not stay here too long. We do not want to overstay our...welcome.”

Robin nodded even though Hudtan had turned away and begun creeping up the stairs. She watched the dark elf blend in with the shadows, then looked over at the door at the far end of the hall. You can do this, she told herself. This is what you were born to do. She rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet for a moment, before quietly stepping towards the door.

It opened with a slight creak that turned upward into a question. What is beyond me? it seemed to ask. Robin peeked her head through and found the answer. It was the kitchen. By the light of a small window, Robin could see the counter tops bruised with vegetable stains and scarred with knife cuts. A water pump was dripping every few seconds into the basin, filled with dirty plates. The cupboards sat enticingly closed.

Robin opened each one, but found only moldy bread and canned food. There were no jars of coins hidden among the brussel sprouts, no expensive crockery neatly stacked out of reach, and no stray jewels either, which Robin had really hoped for even if she hadn't really expected them. She turned to look around the rest of the kitchen. There were still plenty more nooks and crannies that could contain something, anything, valuable.

There were also two white eyes staring back at her.

After grasping the counter to hold herself up when her knees gave out, and catching herself once again from screaming, Robin grumbled, “You know, Hudtan, you should really stop sneaking up on me and give me some sort of warning before...”

Robin then looked closer to see that the eyes did not belong to Hudtan. She was in the room with a little elf girl.

The girl was wearing a plain nightdress with several patches, and was looking up at Robin with her clear, solid white eyes through brown hair that still had tinges of green. Wood elves were often born with green hair that turned brown or black during their first few years and, like trees, grew yellow and red as they became elderly. Robin had always thought the hair of the young elf boys she saw every so often playing in the streets looked like untended grass. This girl looked more like she was emerging from a vine-latticed jungle.

"Who are you?” the girl asked.

Robin thought fast. Unfortunately, her fast thinking had never helped her out in the past, and it decided to maintain the pattern now. “I'm, er...the night cleaner. I'm here to clean up, your, um...” Her eyes went back to sink. “...dishes."

The girl tilted her head. “We've never had a night cleaner before."

"Yes, we're new,” Robin said, “now please leave me alone, I've got...work to do.” She knelt down to look under the table, lifting the lid off every pot and pan. When she glanced over her shoulder, the elf girl was still there. She cleared her throat. “Go back to bed, okay?” The girl sat down on the floor, still staring at Robin. Robin sighed.

"Tell me a story,” the girl said.

“Once upon a time there was a little girl who wouldn't go to bed so she go eaten by a monster, the end.”

The girl frowned. “Not that one, I hear that one all the time. Tell me a good story.”

Robin bit her lip, realizing that she had lost her focus and hadn't been searching for something to steal. She continued rummaging through the pantry. “I told you, I am busy.”

"I guess I'll ask the Matron then, and tell her you wouldn't,” the girl said. She stood up and started towards the door. Robin spun around.

"Once...upon a time, a far away time and a very...mystical time,” Robin said. The girl turned back to her and sat, leaning against the low cabinets. Robin licked her lips. “There was a boy who had everything he ever wanted. But his neighbor was a big meanie, and nobody liked him, so he never got what he wanted. So the neighbor was jealous of the first boy, and decided he was going to steal his favorite toy."

"An Ediulean queen doll!” the girl squeaked.

Robin blinked. “They wouldn't fight over a little doll. It should be something bigger, like a...”

"I want it to be a doll!” the girl said, her voice rising. Robin held her finger up to her mouth.

"Okay, keep quiet! It's a queen doll. A very pretty doll, with a beautiful, expensive dress, and the boy loved it so much, and his neighbor was going to go through a lot of trouble to steal it, even though that doesn't make any sense...”

"You're not good at telling stories,” the girl said.

"I'm a night cleaner, not a bard,” Robin said.

"You're not much good at cleaning, either.”

"I'm not much good at anything, kid."

The girl nodded. “Keep going.”

"...The neighbor boy built a clawed golem so he could steal the doll...”

"He can't build anything, he's the villain. He has to steal it.”

Robin sighed and looked at the girl's pearly eyes. “You can't keep changing the story. The characters have very specific backgrounds and personalities in my mind, and you're casting all sorts of counter-spells at the enchantment.”

"That stuff happened before you started telling it to me. Now that I'm here, I get to have a say too.” The girl crossed her arms and stuck out her tongue. “Things have to change once the story really starts. Otherwise you already know how it ends.”

"Yes. I'm supposed to know how it ends. I'm the one telling the story!”

The girl put both of her index fingers in front of her nose. “Ssh! You have to be quiet too.”

Now it was Robin's turn to tilt her head. “Are you supposed to be down here?”

The girl looked sheepish. “No.”

"Why aren't you asleep like the rest of the kids?”

The girl started wringing the hem of her night-skirt. “I like the night. I don't have to listen to the other kids. I can think.”

Robin looked at the elf child, then at the two of them, sitting on the floor of the kitchen together. Talking about herself made the girl start staring at the floor. Robin saw that they had both ended up sitting with their legs crossed, leaning their backs against the counter underneath the window. Robin stood up and held out her hand. The girl looked up at her without moving. Robin smiled. “I think you should finish the story, but you've got to be in your bed. That's where the best ideas come to you.”

The girl looked from Robin's hand to her face, but didn't reach out. “Nobody will make you go to sleep, though,” Robin said with a wink. The girl smiled, stood up, and took her hand.

Robin walked the girl upstairs, letting her lead the way to her bedroom. They tiptoed inside, as the room contained seven other children, each swallowing gulps of air through their mouths and creating puddles of drool on their pillows. Each also had a cup of water on the corner of the table next to their beds.

The elf girl crawled into her bed while Robin crept back towards the door. The girl sat back up. “Don't you want to hear the rest of the story?”

"Places to go, people to thieve-I mean, clean. Up...after,” Robin said. The cups of water caught her eyes. “Best don't drink from your cup tonight. Rinse it out well tomorrow before you drink from it again.” The girl nodded and lay back down, her eyes staring up at the ceiling. “Sleep well,” Robin added.

"I'm an elf. We meditate instead of sleeping.” The girl sounded proud.

Robin closed the door and backed into the dark hallway on the top floor. Anzo was standing by the window, watching the moon to judge how long they had taken. When he saw Robin, he sneaked over to her. His weight made each floorboard groan.

"Hudtan is helping Gwynt finish searching the bedrooms,” Anzo said. “Report on your acquisitions!”

"Erm...” Robin muttered. Before she could come up with an excuse for her empty pockets, there was a loud bang from downstairs, followed by shouting.

"Everyone, wake up! You're all in danger! You need to leave!”

Anzo brushed off Robin, who had jumped and clung to his arm. “It's the cops!” he bellowed. Forsaking all stealth, he dashed over to another bedroom door, stomping the whole way, and kicked it in. Robin heard a thump and a grunt of pain; Hudtan emerged from the bedroom, followed by Gwynt, clutching his nose. “We've got to leave, now!” Anzo told them. There was rustling from a bed within.

"We heard,” Gwynt whined. “We were on our way out. You didn't need to kick the door into me like that...”

Loud, metallic footsteps were stomping around the first floor. “No time to complain!” Anzo cried. “We'll have to go out the way we came!” He bolted to the window at the end of the hallway, with Gwynt and Hudtan close behind. Robin danced in place, her teeth clenched in panic. Nobody had ever called the guard on her before; whenever she failed to steal something, she was always either given a stern warning or simply chased by her intended victim, who probably didn't want to involve the guard because of their own past crimes. In the end, she was left to take care of herself, after either escaping or getting beat up enough to satisfy any wronged party. The threat of imprisonment was an entirely new sensation, and one that seemed to confuse her brain into thinking that her legs were protruding from her chin.
Anzo was scrambling at the window while the footsteps started towards the staircase. “Did you hear me?” the voice called up. Robin was vaguely aware that it sounded like it belonged to a young man. “There's going to be an attack!”

"How did they discover us?” Hudtan hissed.

"Where's the rope?!” Anzo bellowed. Gwynt leaned out the window.

"It looks you dropped it instead of pulling it up when we entered,” he said.

Anzo pointed across the alley, at the building they had used to aid their climb. There was a glassless window across from them. “We'll jump and make our way down through the next building.”

"Are you-” Robin started to ask, but Anzo had already hoisted himself onto the windowsill. She took a quick look behind her to see the top of a helmet emerging from the shadows of the lower floor. Anzo launched himself at the other wall, catching hold of its window and quickly pulling himself over and into the room beyond using his massive muscles. Gwynt and Hudtan were quick to follow, their spry bodies able to make the leap easily. Robin braced herself within the window frame, and made the mistake of looking down.

"Quick, Robin!” Gwynt was saying from the other side. “Jump!”

If she slipped, she would fall. A fall from two stories would certainly not kill her...it would only leave her with broken bones, agonizing pain, and the town guard right around the corner. Robin was paralyzed.

She heard the footsteps behind her, and turned her head. She saw the guard's face, and to her surprise, his brown eyes were not clenched in anger, but wide with his own fear. He was running straight towards her.

"Don't go in there! That building is-”

Robin swung her fist and punched him right between the eyes.

While he was staggered, and with the aid of the adrenaline rush from the most successful combat maneuver she had ever pulled off, Robin turned and kicked her legs with all her might, aiming herself at the window opposite her. Gwynt and Hudtan were there to catch her, and together they entered what, as far as they knew, was an unexceptional warehouse.

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Chapter 11, Fuse >>