Where the Wind Blows Wild: Part Three
Kanrik looked down at Hannah as they crouched behind an ash-bin. She was wearing a scarf and hood, not so much to disguise herself as to keep the ever-present wind from freezing her solid. But he could tell that she was smiling. He rolled his eyes. "Excited to break into the mayor's place without further ado?"
She nodded. "I want to see the statues!"
Ah, Hannah. Kanrik smiled despite himself. He would have preferred to break in tonight, but the Ogrin and the Wocky had clearly seen Kanrik and Hannah trailing them. If they were planning a robbery, Kanrik and Hannah wanted to get there first. Kanrik knew it was stupid to be too confident, but even without time to case the joint, he doubted that there would be too much trouble. The Arnsian wouldn't be in a vault – it would be displayed. It was probably close to the front doors, since the front doors were where Corbin and Kell had been thrown out of the manor. And they'd seen several servants leaving as evening fell – it seemed likely that most of the staff went home at night.
Likely. Kanrik normally didn't like likely. But if those two amateurs were trying to get their hands on the Arnsian, likely would have to do.
The day had been cloudy, with a punishing damp wind, and the night ahead would be dark and cold. Hannah leaned against his side, and he opened his cloak just long enough to wrap it around her as well. She was so small that she wouldn't be able to bear the cold for long – of course, Kanrik wouldn't either. He wanted to go back to the inn tonight and hide out in the carriage stable – it would be safer to get a start in the morning. It was cold enough that he wouldn't be surprised at sleet or ice. He nodded at Hannah. "I'm cold. It's dark. Let's go get that statue and get back to Happy Valley."
Hannah shivered and nodded. "I agree. I'd almost rather have a blizzard – at least those are honest."
They stood and started walking slowly toward the manor – slowly enough that they could turn and pretend to have other business if they were caught. People's eyes were caught when they saw others running, even in the darkness.
They found cover again in the rear of the manor in the straggly bushes, by a small staff door. Kanrik tried it – it was locked, but that had never posed a serious issue. He took out his lock picks, and the second one he tried did the job. He smirked. "Cheapskate. This thing's standard. I've had more trouble sorting through a key ring."
Hannah nodded, a sparkle in her eye. "Now open the Fyora-forsaken door so we can get inside where it's warm!"
Kanrik did. It was dark in one direction – in the other they could both hear and smell the sounds of the kitchen. That was to be avoided. One screaming maid would make the whole venture far more complicated. He said, "Toward the front of the house." She nodded and followed.
They followed the hall they were in – the windows were curtained, which would provide slight cover, but not much. At this point, the main plan was "don't get caught." While Hannah didn't get involved in burglary as much as Kanrik did, she'd been an able study whenever Kanrik asked her to help him, and she followed him soundlessly.
They found the stair - a large one, inside the front hall, which extended up to the second floor. Kanrik noticed a movement upstairs, where there was a light in the hall opposite them. That was the only light in the space – if only there was more! It would be easier to find the blasted Arnsian if they weren't risking tripping over it in the dark.
He grabbed Hannah and pulled her into the closest cover – an open door into a room that appeared to be a lesser office, likely for some sort of clerk.
Mayor Marius said, "I don't see why you need to be so circumspect about this."
A woman's voice replied, "I don't see why you think it is your right to know. Who is helping whom here?"
Kanrik sucked a breath of air in through his teeth. He knew that voice, low and throaty with a slight edge that could be either minor mischief or pure threat. Next to him, Hannah squeezed his hand, her silent way of asking a question. He responded in the faintest whisper he could manage, "Masila."
Hannah's grip tightened. They hadn't actually met face-to-face, Kanrik didn't think. But that wouldn't matter – the fact that Hannah was important to Kanrik would be enough to make the little Usul into a target for the cold-blooded Acara. It didn't need to be personal.
Of course, it was personal between Masila and Kanrik. Double-crossing a fellow and then poisoning him and leaving him for dead on an ice sheet tended to do that. And then he'd managed to shove that back in her face by taking over the Thieves' Guild without any of her duplicitous help. He'd known she wouldn't stop scheming. He'd known that she'd be out there, finding some way to take power back, some way to take revenge.
Brilforge. What was she doing in Brilforge? How was the mayor tied up in this?
And what did it have to do with the Arnsian?
Marius said, "I am quite aware of my debt to you. But you need someone to help you hide out so Kanrik and his bruisers don't get ahold of you."
Kanrik took offense to that. He didn't work with bruisers. Bruisers took too much direction. He preferred people who could work their ways out of their own messes.
Masila replied, icily, "How many small towns are there in these mountains? There are others who can help me, Marius. Others who would be glad to see their villages prosper with the trade I will bring in. You're a smart man, Marius. You know not to look at this as the Defenders of Neopia would."
Now, Kanrik didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with the Defenders of Neopia himself – last time Constanza had been in Neopia Central, she'd stolen him, Mortman, and Paselle copies of their wanted posters. They'd hung them up above the hearth at the inn in Happy Valley. But Masila's heart was colder than the wild wind outside, and he had a feeling that whatever she was planning was a bit nastier than smuggling and fencing stolen goods.
Like poisoning fellows and leaving them for dead on ice sheets. Not that Kanrik was bitter.
Marius said, "The monsters, though – I don't see why you think they're real."
"Would it interest you to know that in his youth Arnsian was part of a team called the Monster Hunters? I find it easy to believe there is some truth to the legends. If you'll search the mountains and find them – something I can help you with – people will come to see them. This will provide my organization with cover, much as the winter tourists in Happy Valley provide that weak idiot Gelert with both camouflage and easy prey."
Kanrik looked down at Hannah, who scowled. He smiled. Masila continued, "Look at this. Does this look like the work of simple imagination to you?"
Kanrik risked a glance – they were looking at a statue at the top of the staircase. He hid himself again quickly, but they'd found their target. And if Masila had an interest in it, Kanrik was all the more determined to move it to the far side of Neopia.
Masila and Marius were speaking more softly, now, and Kanrik heard the footsteps receding. He whispered to Hannah, "We're grabbing that statue, and we're heading down the road tonight. I'm not spending any extra time anywhere Masila is."
Hannah nodded. She'd heard all the stories. All of the old hands from Galem's days told stories about Galem and Masila to scare the young ones around the fire in Happy Valley – which was a plum place for a thief, no matter what Masila said.
A door shut upstairs. It was now – now, and it didn't matter how cold it was outside, they couldn't even wait out the night or Masila would likely find some underhanded way to kill the both of them. Kanrik would rather be stranded in a Terror Mountain whiteout than be stuck in the same room with that treacherous, ruthless, faithless, cold-blooded, heartless, vicious, manipulative, scheming woman. And he wanted Hannah near her even less.
Kanrik darted out, with Hannah close behind. They were light-footed up the stairs, and Kanrik went to the place where Masila and the mayor had been standing. Here it was, in an alcove – the strange monster reaching out to touch the ragged Kougra. He looked at it. It was every bit as strange and misshapen as the sketch showed. Masila believed these things were real? Perhaps the years she'd spent running from Thieves' Guild justice had gone to her head.
Hannah took it and wrapped it carefully, then put it in their prepared bag. A bit of Strong Forever Glue would fix most ills, but he'd really rather not have to repair the statue. She passed Kanrik the bag, and then turned to go.
Then a shadowy shape came out of the darkness and grabbed Hannah. Kanrik leapt back to give himself room to maneuver, drawing his sword and his knife in the same movement. He whispered fiercely, "Let her go now or you'll meet my blade – and you can ask Galem Darkhand how well that ended for him!"
The taller figure uncovered a lantern – it was sided in red glass, so the light it gave off was dim, but it was enough for Kanrik to see that it was their competition, Corbin the Ogrin and Kell the Wocky. Kell was holding Hannah, keeping one of his hands over her mouth, while Corbin held both his lantern and a strange horn-shaped device. Corbin whispered, "Hand over the statue and no one gets hurt!"
Kanrik whispered back, resisting the urge to shout at them – bringing Masila into this would only make it all worse – "Oh, you'll get hurt in a minute unless you put her down now."
Corbin pointed the horn directly at Hannah, whose eyes narrowed. "Let's settle this quickly, before the mayor and his visitor come back. Please. We'd really rather not hurt anyone. You can't possibly understand what this statue means."
Kanrik looked back at the hall – the light hadn't changed, meaning the door was still shut. "This is going to get settled, all right."
Two assailants. And they had a mysterious weapon. But, more importantly, they had Hannah. And even a pair of idiots could have enough luck to hurt her – these amateur clowns were more likely to do so by accident than on purpose. And if they made too much noise they'd alert Masila and they'd all be dead.
Kanrik could work with this.
To be continued...