As the citizens of and visitors to Goldharbour go about their lives of decadent excess, the Bandits of Goldharbour are planning what they hope will be a very good day for them. When you’re a bandit, a “very good day” means “stole lots of loot.”
Unfortunately, those good days are becoming increasingly uncommon. The upside to that sad fact is that it’s because they’ve had so many good days already. There’s no loot left to steal because they’ve already stolen it all.
Despite being the most-wanted criminals in all of Goldharbour, and probably even all of Realmgard, none of the many passers-by seem to notice their presence as they stand scheming on the street corner. Of course, because they are the most-wanted criminals in Goldharbour, they have to try to be inconspicuous until they’re ready to make their move.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a fake moustache and pair of glasses. Even though their faces are plastered all over the city, no one has recognised them underneath their ingenious disguises.
“Honey-Bear, I’m bored!” Alison Steel declares to her beloved Dirk Broadsword. “I wanna rough somebody up! I wanna grab some loot!”
“I know, Sugar-Blossom,” Dirk assures his best girl. “But we didn’t become the world’s greatest bandits by being stupid about this. We need a plan for our next heist. We can’t just go around kicking down doors and knocking people over.”
“Well, we could,” Alison notes. “Actually, that sounds pretty fun. Let’s do that!” She grabs Dirk’s hand. “Come on, Honey-Bear! Let’s go! I’ll even let you pick which door we kick down!”
“What about here, Sugar-Blossom?” he asks his partner.
“It’s a café, Honey-Bear,” she notes sceptically, following his gaze.
“Yeah. A café filled with super-rich people,” he counters.
“Who robs a café?” she wonders.
“I don’t know,” he admits with a shrug. “But when you think about it, why wouldn’t we?”
“Because it’s a café, maybe?” she offers. “We’re not going to get rich stealing coffee.”
“Just hear me out, Sugar-Blossom,” he urges. “It’s like you said, no one robs cafés. That means they won’t be expecting it. It’s not like they’re going to have guards hanging around.”
“I guess,” she concedes.
He points across the street. “I mean, just look at this place, Sugar-Blossom. This is where all the bigwigs come for their coffee. That means the café is going to do all it can to impress all those big-wigs and their big, fat big-wig wallets. They’re probably eating solid gold breakfast off plates covered in jewels.”
“Yeah,” Alison says, grinning like a cat in a canary factory. She turns to Dirk. “So, do you want to kick down the door? Or shall I?”
“It’s all you, Sugar-Blossom,” Dirk answers.
“Oh, Honey-Bear, you know just what a girl likes to hear.”
The morning, Kat decides, is beginning to turn around.
Once they get to their table on the cafe’s patio, Amara announces that she’ll treat Kat and Estelle to breakfast. This is very good news. Amara’s family is hilariously, ludicrously, stupendously rich, which means that Kat can buy a hilariously, ludicrously, stupendously large breakfast.
When the waiter comes by and asks “What will the young miss be having?”, Kat runs a finger over the menu and goes, “One of these. And two of these. Three of these. Two of these. One of these. And some orange juice.” She’s stopped just short of buying one of everything.
Estelle orders some toast, which, thankfully, does not end up resembling a piece of charcoal, and another orange juice of her own. Amara is having a coffee with a fancy name that Kat can’t pronounce.
“So, how is the Family Darkstone enjoying Goldharbour?” Amara asks, leaning across the table.
“Can’t talk now, eating,” Kat answers laconically through a mouth stuffed impossibly full of breakfast. As Amara looks on, images are called to mind of some great serpent unhinging its jaw to swallow its prey whole.
Luckily, Estelle is there to provide any actual conversation Amara might desire. “Dorian and Dunstana are off at their little pirate party,” she says. “So, they’ll be having fun. Which means we have most of the day to ourselves.”
Kat sets down her fork to catch her breath after devouring a pile of bacon. “We should enjoy it while it lasts,” she adds. “The noises she makes at night.” She shudders. “Her snoring sounds like a bear hitting a moose with another bear. And she hogs the whole bed. I had to sleep on the couch.”
Amara frowns. “Poor Katherine,” she says, reaching across the table to give Kat’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m sure you’ll feel better when we get some food in you.”
“Yeah,” Kat mutters. “I hope so.” She usually does.
“Well, here’s to a wonderful vacation,” Amara says, raising her cup. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Estelle answers, raising hers in answer.
Kat raises her fork in a brief salute, before plunging back into her exhaustive survey of Mount Breakfast. She’s just found a promising waffle deposit.
Amara watches, and as she does, the countless generations of her family’s fine breeding and her own long years of etiquette school scream in silent agony as Kat’s abject lack of manners tramples upon everything they stand for. Not for the first time in the history of their friendship, Amara is left shaking her head at Kat’s antics.
“Katherine, dear,” she mutters. “Chew with your mouth closed, please. And, by the Powers, use your napkin.”
In an impossibly brief span of time, Kat has conquered Mount Breakfast. She sets down her fork, leans back in her chair and gives a contented sigh. She’s starting to hate vacations a little less.
“We’ve got all day ahead of us. What is there around here to do for fun?” she asks, deciding that she might as well start acting like she’s on vacation.
“Well,” Amara says, counting off on her fingers as she does. “There’s the Opera House, the Magisterial Gardens— they’re just lovely at this time of year. And, of course, there are fromageries here in town with seventy-seven kinds of cheese.”
“There are kinds of cheese?” Kat asks in amazement.
“Yes, Katherine,” Amara answers gently. “There are kinds of cheese.” She clears her throat and continues to extol the virtues of the city. “And there are some fantastic tailors in the Market District.” She pauses for a moment as she weighs her own words. “We should go dress shopping!” she declares in sheer excitement. She stares across the table and wide smile crosses her lips. “Something light. For summer.”
A shiver runs down Kat’s spine when she realises that the dress Amara is envisioning isn’t for herself.
“Frills are back in fashion now, of course,” Amara continues, clearly happily off in her own little world. “Plus, jewellery to match. And we can’t forget the shoes. And haircut. Makeup, too. You’ll be just gorgeous, Katherine. It will be so much better than those rags of yours.” With upturned nose, she gestures towards Kat’s current outfit with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Kat looks down at her plain, well-worn clothes, then up at Amara. “What’s wrong with my clothes? I’m an adventurer. What else am I supposed to wear?” But as she looks across the table at Amara’s shimmery splendour, she can’t help but feel that she could improve her fashion sense.
“You’re on vacation, Katherine,” Amara counters. “You should treat yourself. And really, how much adventuring do you expect to be doing in downtown Goldharbour?”
Amara heaves a put-upon sigh. “You are far too stubborn, Katherine.” A resolute look crosses her face. “But I’ll make a lady out of you yet.”
Estelle laughs so hard she almost chokes on her orange juice. “Good luck with that, Amara,” she says.
Both of her daughters have the courage to be unrepentant about being who they are. Though she has long since given up on changing them into anything else, but there’s still a part of her that would have liked to have at least one sweet, gentle, well-behaved little girl.
However, she did marry a Darkstone. Good behaviour doesn’t seem to run in that family.
Amara glances mournfully down at her wallet. “But we’ll need to stop by the bank first, I think.”
When she offered to buy breakfast, she seriously underestimated the size of Kat’s appetite. After fifteen years, she realises, she should have known better.
Having finished her breakfast and beginning to forget the twin horrors of last night and earlier this morning, Kat has started passing the time by idly playing with her spoon, spinning it on its end and catching it as it falls to do it again.
Looking up from her makeshift amusement, she notices that Amara is wearing a concerned expression on her face. Her long, pointed Elf-ears are twitching, straining to pick up some distinct sound.
“What?” Kat asks anxiously. “What is it?” Her experience as both a licensed adventurer and Dunstana Darkstone’s big sister has left her with a highly-tuned sense for when things are going badly— and that sense is starting to act up.
Either that, or she ate too fast.
“Something’s happening,” Amara answers, tilting her head towards the sound.
“Something bad?” Estelle asks.
Kat thinks she already knows the answer.
“I hear something. Yelling. And fighting.” She pauses for a moment to focus on the sound. “And breaking crockery. So, yes, I do believe it’s something bad. And it’s getting closer.”
“Ugh,” Kat groans as she deflates in exasperation. She turns her eyes skyward. “Why do you hate me?” she asks the cosmos and the Powers that clearly have it in for her. She is, it seems, destined to live in interesting times.
Even on vacation.
Right on cue, the door to the café’s patio bursts open under the force of a mighty kick and two people, a young man and woman, both wearing thick, obviously fake moustaches and heavy glasses stride out onto the patio. Kat does not fail to notice that the man has a burlap sack flung over his shoulder. She can only assume she is about to meet the Bandits of Goldharbour.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the male bandit says, taking a step forward and bowing dramatically. “Boys and girls, good people of Goldharbour and esteemed visitors to our fair city, it is my utmost pleasure and privilege to introduce my most magnificent self.”
He is met with the blank stares of the people on the patio.
“Oh,” he mutters to himself. “Right.” He promptly pulls off the fake moustache and glasses to reveal his features. “Behold! My most magnificent self: Dirk Broadsword. The giftedest rogue in all Realmgard”
“Oh no! It’s the Bandits!” one of the people on the patio exclaims.
“Oh, not again,” a particularly unfortunate citizen of Goldharbour mutters.
Suddenly, the patio of the café is filled with the sounds of the swooning and panicking upper crust of Goldharbour, along with a silently mortified Amara, a cautiously watchful Estelle and a Kat ready to start punching.
Coming face-to-face with Dirk Broadsword, Kat once again recalls heroes of bad romance novels. He’s got that scruffy, unkempt look that other girls are apparently supposed to like. Kat thinks it just makes him look like he needs a shave and haircut. And Kat doubts that most girls would like the whole master criminal angle he’s working.
Though, clearly, at least one girl in Realmgard likes him.
The bandit continues his whole embarrassing song and dance — though, thankfully, stopping just short of any actual singing or dancing, “And with me, as always, is my truest and best-beloved companion, the sublimely beautiful and supremely dangerous, the one and only Alison Steel.” He turns towards her and points to his cheek. “Give us a kiss for luck, Sugar-Blossom?”
Alison Steel leans to give her companion a quick kiss on the cheek. “Good luck,” she says cheerily.
As the Bandits of Goldharbour continue preening for their almost-literally captive audience, Kat can’t help but notice that several of the people on the patio are taking the opportunity to sneak away and make themselves scarce. She also can’t help but wonder why she isn’t one of them.
Grinning broadly, Dirk Broadsword turns his attention to the people remaining on the patio. “I’m sure by now that you, my good people, are entirely familiar with the situation.” He hefts the sack on his shoulder. “Kindly place any coins, jewellery or other miscellaneous valuables into the bag.”
Alison Steel speaks up, bouncing on her heels with gleeful anticipation. “And it’d be just super if everyone here just cooperates and gives us what we want without any fuss.” Her previously sugary-sweet voice turns into a low, menacing growl. “Or you’ll be in for a world of hurt.”
Watching Alison Steel just now, Kat has a terrifying vision of what might happen if Dunstana ever decides to use her powers for evil. She is small and clearly brimming with a familiar sort of abundant, relentless energy, obvious as she bounces restlessly. On the one hand, she reminds Kat of a bunny — the two tails her hair is tied into even sort of look like bunny ears. On the other hand, she reminds Kat of some kind of vicious killer bunny.
“Now,” Dirk Broadsword says, that stupid smirk still all over his stupid, eminently-punchable face. “Let’s get down to business.”