"It was a pleasure traveling with you, Kaizer. You should receive your payment tomorrow morning."
"The pleasure was all mine."
With Joseph safely behind the giant golden walls of the noble district, Kaiz was done. His responsibilities were officially zero. According to him, that is. Red had other ideas.
"Where you goin'?"
Kaiz looked around confused, "Home?"
He didn't go home.
Sat atop a three-storey inn a few hours past sundown, he scrutinized a map detailing the layout of Walddaun. The proportions and distances left a bit to be desired, but that was a minor nitpick. Most maps of the city either lacked too much detail to be anything more than vague scribbles of landmarks or only showcased the peasant districts. The map in Kaiz's hands however, showed everything. The slums, forests, parks, wallmarkets, farms, waterways, the noble's district, the garrison, it was all there. Kaiz marvelled at how Snake had the means to acquire such a thing. He knew his power and influence reached far and wide, but how far was far?
Kaiz desperately wished he could have a private moment with the map to copy its contents, but Red watched him like an owl. He, or more precisely the map, never left her sight. Snake had no doubt briefed her on its value and importance. The fact he allowed Kaiz to see it at all was shocking.
I don't know if I should be happy or sad that the blood run wasn't a hoax.
He was more confident that Snake wasn't in on whatever was happening in Struleren, but that didn't mean anything. That ordeal was over. Assuming Viz didn't do something stupid of course. That would always be a concern, but he tried to not think about it.
He was instead growing interested in a certain Sir Michel Rayner. He didn't believe Snake desired mere cloaks this badly. They had value, tremendous value in Kaiz's line of work, but Snake's operations were far greater than his. The map in front of him alone was a testament to that. How valuable could some enchanted gear really be to a man like him?
Maybe he does plan on just killing us when we're done.
He and Viz had briefly discussed it while Red was out of earshot. Kaiz wasn't completely sold at that point. He still wasn't sold now, but he accepted that it was far too late to say no. He no longer feared the job being inherently too difficult to complete. Red, while an oddity now, had abilities that he had never even heard of. Snake wouldn't let her die needlessly. That fact didn't bring comfort though, it merely substituted one fear for another.
Even ignoring both the map and their recent dealing with Conan, the job was fishy. Snake was notorious for only offering suicide missions. He'd offer enormous paydays as well, but death was more than likely the only reward. If he genuinely believed the job had a good chance of success, then there must have been something they failed to grasp. Whether that had to do with Mr. Rayner or themselves, he could only speculate. What he just experienced showed him just how unfair the big boys could play. While Kaiz himself was fairly new to the party, Viz had been causing Snake problems for years. His recent desires to collaborate and coexist couldn't be wholly honest.
Kaiz turned his gaze to see a deeply unhappy Red staring back, "Don't remember you being so impatient."
"Jus' hurry up."
Kaiz didn't vocalize a response. He was honestly taking an abnormally long time. In truth, he had already completed what he needed to. His desire to memorize as much of the map as possible was all that kept them.
I suppose this is enough.
"Alright, I've got it."
Kaiz silently shook his head. With Red sat next to him, both of them overlooking the map, he explained their plan of action.
"First what we know. Rayner lives in the White Turtle compound. That, as you know, is in the noble's section of the city. Unlike the manors, it's on the recreational side to the south, with all the parks and restaurants and whatever. That's also where the Blue Shields base of operations is. The scouting report says the Blue Shields have taken to actively guarding the compound as if it was their own. Supposedly, the guards they put in the compound are at most level 22. They leave it for their rookies or something. Anyway, the main difficulty should be that outer perimeter of Blue Shields. The security inside is reportedly unskilled at detection. I don't really know what 'unskilled' means, everyone's unskilled if we use Blue Shields as the example. We'll have to figure that out later. I doubt any regular guard could compare to their senses, but it's better to be sure. Are you following?"
"Yeh. Go on."
"Ignoring their ridiculous detection abilities, Blue Shields are slow. Outrunning them should be simple. Snake wants this to be a completely silent run, but if things go sideways our exit strategy is running through this park, it's dense enough that we should be able to escape their range by the end of it, and getting to this restaurant. Behind it there's supposedly a hole we can dig that would lead us to an abandoned waterway. We'll have to see for ourselves if it exists and where it heads, but if it checks out, that's our backup. Still following?"
Red's face was a picture of annoyance.
"I'm just making sure. Whoever did the scouting report suggests we use the food and supply shipments as our route in. We can check the viability of that if you want, but I'd rather avoid it. They'd scan us at the checkpoint and while it wouldn't be enough information to pinpoint us, I don't like unnecessary risks. So, instead of that, I suggest we sneak through here."
Red looked at the place on the map Kaiz was pointing at, then up at Kaiz, "What's there?"
Kaiz was pointing at a portion of the huge sandstone wall that demarcated the noble's district. Beyond it being thinner than the other three walls, there was nothing about it that screamed 'security leak'.
"This wall is the only wall without a gate of some kind. Meaning. This is the only wall without guards on the bottom."
Kaiz continued, "And. That means there's no one protecting it or watching it. On the ground, at least. So, who's to see if we say..dig under it."
Red looked at Kaiz dumbfounded, "That it?"
Kaiz smiled back, "Indeed. Obviously randomly digging a hole in broad daylight would be suspicious. Fortunately," He moved his finger to point at a building next to the wall, "Snake owns a shop right here. Assuming it has a basement, the job is already a third done."
Red scoffed, "You think he'll just let you do that?"
"Well." Kaiz shrugged, "If he wants the job done efficiently, yes."
"You're an idiot."
And you're a lot more vocal all of a sudden.
"Maybe, but that's for you to find out." He rolled up the map and handed it to Red, who was still looking at him as if he was a fool, "Until then, I've got some scouting to do."
Thankfully, Snake didn't put any particular time-limit on completing the job. Kaiz planned to find time to scout the Blue Guards himself. The report wasn't as detailed as he liked.
Red shook her head, "Diggin' a hole...wow. The plan when we're in?"
"Depends on what your boss says. I can't make a proper plan until I've scouted the area personally."
"Course. I gotta g..."
The rest of the sentence drifted away as Red disappeared into the darkness.
She does that uncomfortably well.
Left alone on the roof, Kaiz scanned the scouting report one last time. Even if he didn't trust it fully, he did appreciate its thoroughness. Attempted thoroughness, at least. He quickly jotted down a few notes before slipping into the night as well.
"Ah! Herbie is back!"
Kaiz bent down to pick up the young girl running at him, "Good evening Ramona. Whose idea was 'Herbie'?"
Ramona giggled, "It was mine! Pete wanted to call you Gladius, but I said no. That's a mean name and you're nice."
"Am I?" Kaiz immediately assaulted her with tickles.
Ramona tried to run, but it was too late, the onslaught had begun and her yelps for mercy could do nothing to stop it. Kaiz's deep, maniacal laughter quickly overtook her cries.
"Stop this at once!"
Interrupting his gleeful villainy, a loud shout emerged from within the orphanage. Kaiz thought Sister Jen had come out to ruin the fun, as she often did, but when he looked at the doorway between the makeshift study and the central hall only wood returned his gaze.
That brief lull in his concentration was just what Ramona needed to leap from his clutches. She didn't wait around as soon as she was free she was out the door. Kaiz followed closely behind, but instead of catching her he turned towards the crowd of kids standing by as Sister Jen pulled Pete and Tom by the ear. They both had wooden swords in hand. As he tried piecing the puzzle together, the answer showed up on its own.
"Herbie! How dare you terrorize my sweet Ramona."
Kaiz watched skeptically as a tall, lanky, light-skinned man with a blue glow approached him, "That your doing?"
He didn't even turn to look at what was clearly his handiwork, "Don't change the subject. Look what you've done to her."
Ramona, who was casually sitting in his arms, turned to Kaiz and stuck out her tongue.
"Look. She's traumatized," He gently rubbed her hair, "Don't worry, big brother Otto is here to protect you."
"For now. Grim won't be happy when he hears you're hanging out in enemy territory."
"I know. Shame I won't be there to see it."
The smirk on Otto's face confused Kaiz. Grim's crew wasn't one of the biggest, but Grim himself had a huge reputation. Rightfully so, there wasn't a soul outside of Walddaun's walls that could fight him one-on-one. Otto had always pushed the boundaries on what was acceptable, but now he was outright being disrespectful.
"Anyway. When you're done here, meet me in the room. Viz wants us to talk."
"How do you know I'd be here?"
Otto replied while strolling away, "Viz told me. Duh."
What the hell? How'd he know I'd come here tonight? What does he want us to talk about?
"K—Herbie! You come here right now, young man!"
"Must you always be a bastard?"
"I was born this way K. What can a poor orphan do?"
Kaiz groaned, "So why are you here?"
"I just told you, to—"
"Why are you here, blatantly disregarding your boss' instructions?"
"Actually," He leaned back into his seat and crossed his legs, "This is exactly where my 'boss' wants me to be."
"What? Grim wants you to be here? Impossible. He wouldn't even send you as a spy."
Otto gasped, "You think so little of me?"
Grim can't have sent him. So what? A new boss? Wait. Wait a minute...
Kaiz's eyes went wide, "No way…"
"Took you a minute, huh?" He pulled out a circular silver badge. At the center there was a man, etched in gold, gazing into the distance with a telescope in hand, "You're looking at a board member of the Golden Visions Trading Company."
"So this is what he meant."
Kaiz didn't know how to feel. While this was a monumental step forward for their group, it opened the door to so many pits. Too many pits. Viz, while known for his incredible attention to detail, was quite fond of recklessness. In Kaiz's estimation, he enjoys risk. Viz would argue that his success far outweighed his failures and none of his failures had backfired too heavily, but they were beginning to take the kind of risks where failure was permanent.
Otto tucked his badge back into his pocket, "Back to the reason I'm here. You're walking into the jaws of death soon, what's that about?"
Kaiz fell into the nearest seat and lounged back, "It's a blood run. Snake wants us to get a guy named Michel Rayner. He makes Nightwatcher cloaks."
"Ouh. And this Mr. Rayner works for a noble?"
"Worse. So much worse. He works for the army."
"Oouuh. Loud or silent?"
"Ooouuh. My. What's the time limit?"
"There isn't one."
"Oh. I'd say not all bad, but that's still a pretty terrible job."
"Why did you accept? I don't want to judge a drink by its bottle, but Snake's name is...Snake."
Kaiz sat up straight rubbing his temples, "The 'Golden Visions Trading Company' wouldn't exist if I didn't. Plus, he sent one of his people to come with me. Redhead. Super fine. She has some wild magic that'd be way too valuable to throw away just to get me killed."
"Ahh, I see." He pinched his lower lip, "Hmm. Well, her name's Irma. She's an attendant for the woman that runs Snake's brothels. I didn't know she had atypical magic though."
"How do you know we're talking about the same person?"
"Before I came here Lo sent me a drawing of her—super fine—with a note that read, 'If you can't figure out who she is. Grim can keep you.' So. You know."
Kaiz chuckled, "Well. Her light magic is insane. Instead of creating light it destroys it, or like sucks it up somehow. She has another spell that keeps people unconscious. Don't even know where to begin with that one."
"She's the ticket in then?"
"Not past the wall. Lo thinks Snake already has a way in, but once we're in, she'll be pretty useful."
Otto rubbed his jaw, "That's where I come in. Lo wants to run a few other jobs while you do the big one."
Kaiz looked at him warily, "That's an idiotic idea."
"Ye of little faith. It seems the student believes himself better than the master?" Otto returned his look with a smirk.
Kaiz head fell into his palms as his fingers threatened to ruin his hairline, "Why can't we ever just do one thing, do it well, then move on to another? Why must we always jeopardize two, three, four jobs at once?"
Otto wasn't privy to the jobs Kaiz and Viz had been taking, but he knew Viz well and that sounded just like him, "Each year that goes by, Lo is one year further from his goal. You can't blame him for being in a bit of a hurry."
"He has ten years left! This is the biggest job of our lives and he's risking that for what? What can we possibly gain that's worth risking this?"
Otto smiled, "Well…"
"Good evening sir, what is your business tonight?"
"Good evening. I am a tutor for the Finfrock household." An attendant handed the guard a set of documents.
The guard briefly scanned them before handing them back, "Apologies for the wait, right this way."
Given the right to pass, their magic-driven carriage continued through the gate unabated. Beyond the gate, they rode down the blue brick road, passing by a dozen magnificent looking properties until they reached their destination; a breathtaking mansion owned by Robert Finfrock.
"Ye. Of. Little. Faith."
Kaiz ignored Otto's oppressive smugness. He got out of the carriage and began offloading the luggage. Right now, he was a mere attendant. One of the three that Otto was allowed.The other two were also members of their crew, but Kaiz didn't recognize either of them. As they were moving the bags, a butler-type came out to greet Otto.
He reached his hand out for a handshake, "Mr. Garven, wonderful to finally meet you. I've heard nothing but glowing reviews concerning your service."
Otto obliged, "The pleasure is mine. I take my work very seriously, it is a good feeling when that work is appreciated."
"Of course. Baron Finfrock is out at the moment, but his wife is waiting for you inside."
"Then I should not leave her waiting. If you would be so kind."
The butler guided Otto inside. As he did, a maid came to instruct them on where to move his bags. Something deep within Kaizer despised being Otto's attendant, but this was a job and he wouldn't fail his task because of pettiness.
Unlike Otto, they entered the mansion through a side entrance. The first room they entered left much to be desired. It seemed like a very shoddy staff room. If it wasn't for the lack of dust, Kaiz would question if it ever saw use. Once they were through that room though, it was decadence as Kaiz dreamt it; gold ornaments, fanciful paintings, and extravagant chandeliers. As the maid led them through one lavishly decorated hall after the other, it shocked him that one family could stock so much luxury. It became increasingly difficult for the two 'attendants' with Kaiz to hide their awe. Kaiz himself did a bit better. He had stolen from the wealthy before. Though, no one of this much wealth.
Once they arrived at 'Mr. Garven's' room they refocused on the task at hand, setting up magical defences. No one but Otto would be allowed to stay on the property. All of his needs would be handled by in-house servants, which would be a great situation if he was truly there to just tutor.
"Let's begin. We only have an hour or so to do this."
The two men with Kaiz were both rune experts, while Kaiz himself knew a thing or two about runes; he didn't know anything sophisticated. His role was more correcting erroneous drawn runes than actually setting anything up. It allowed the other two to move at a quicker pace than they usually would. All three of them working in tandem sped the work right along, they finished within forty minutes. They even had time to set up some redundant systems just in case.
Eventually Otto came back and after a brief conversation and re-explanation of what all the runes did, they were escorted off the property. Usually that would mean it was time to leave, but Kaiz still had some scouting to do tonight.
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