Contingency Planning

Stella and Jenny, who prided themselves on being the luckiest thieves in the land, had quite a problem on their hands: that rival pirate gang had taken the loot they’d been planning to nab. In fact, the pirates had just swooped in and stolen it from the oblivious nobleman before the two thieves arrived at the manor grounds. In her rage—she refused to say panic—she dragged the ever bubbly Jenny as they followed the path the pirates had left behind.

Now they were positioned behind a hilltop that allowed them a good look at the pirates’ hideout. The building looked like a tavern that was attached to the mountain behind it. If Stella had to guess, the building was actually hiding the entrance to a cave, which would be the perfect place to conceal the loot stash—and if true, then there would be only one way in.

Upon seeing this, Stella made the following observation: “That has to be the biggest blessing-curse mash-up I’ve ever seen.”

“I thought that was the rowboat escape,” said Jenny, dopey face and all. “The one with the alligators and the vines and the pretty fireflies.”

“That can be the second biggest, then. Anyway, we need a plan to take the loot from the pirates. Let’s start with Plan B.”

“What about Plan A?”

“Jenny, we’ve talked about this: Plan A’s always fail. That’s why we have to come up with contingencies beforehand. We’ve done this several times now; don’t you remember?”

Jenny’s brown eyes never looked more clueless than they did right then, which was all Stella needed to see. Of course not, she thought, running a hand through her blonde hair.

Her subsequent sighing was drawn out extra long when Jenny began to bounce in place and clap her hands in rapid succession. “Ooh, I was thinking that, for Plan A, we use a giant fishing rod to catch the loot and then toss it back over to us!” And she capped it off with a toddler-like smile to boot.

Stella hung her head. “Sure. That can be Plan A. Which will fail because we have no fishing rod. So let’s come up with a Plan B.”

“Okay!”

The blonde thief peered back over to the pirate hideout, which stood as a semi-orange splotch in an expanse of indigo-tinted scenery. Due to the lights coming from the windows, she could see the shadows of figures moving about. As light poured out of every window and door crevice, the possibility that the two thieves could slip in through an unoccupied room didn’t seem plausible. However, because of how close the building was to the mountain side, Stella could visualize a path going to the roof. It didn’t take her long to realize they could simply loop around and duck into the hideout. Any locked doors they could run into wouldn’t be a problem for Jenny; there wasn’t a lock she couldn’t pick. All Stella had to do was send her fellow thief in the right direction while she herself took care of everything else.

I don’t know the building’s layout on the inside, so it looks like we’ll have to make up the rest as we go, she concluded. So she turned to her friend to relay the plan—

—only to see that Jenny was scribbling some things in the dirt with enough speed to cause her brown ponytail to bob beside her shoulder. She looked like a little girl throwing paint on a stone street, complete with cheeky grin and constant giggling. Stella tiptoed over, but before she could close the gap, Jenny sprang up and grabbed her arm.

The bubbly brunette threw her hands towards the scribbles she had just finished making as if to present a grand prize. “Here it is! Plan B!”

PlanB

Stella couldn’t stop staring.

Meanwhile, Jenny looked at her while bopping her fists together. “So what do you think?”

Without moving her gaze away from the scribbles, Stella pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her left ear. “I think Plan C should be a little more detailed.”

“Okay. So what’s Plan C?”

“Well, for starters….”

———

The top-most floor consisted of a single hallway with windows on either end. Stella and Jenny slipped in through the window closest to the stairs, taking care to land on the wooden floor with the lightness of a cat’s step. From that angle, the doors to the rooms were all on their right. Had she not known better, the blonde thief would’ve assumed that they’d just leapt into an inn.

“All right, Jenny,” she said, “go find the loot stash. I’ll cover you.”

Jenny nodded and began inspecting the doors. Based on her earlier observations, Stella assumed that none of the doors led to any actual rooms, but this didn’t tell her which of them could take them to where they wanted to go. If it came down to it, they would need to quickly disguise themselves as members of the pirate gang. On-the-Spot-Contingency One, set, she thought.

Then she heard Jenny’s whispered squeal of, “I found it!”

Stella rushed to where her partner was—and spotted her sliding a wall panel to the side, which revealed a very obvious cave where the loot lay up ahead. How Jenny had managed to find the door that they were looking on the first guess was just a testament to their luck, Stella decided. As her partner went in to put the loot in her backpack, she whipped out her handheld crossbow and kept an eye out for any pirates.

After a while of nothing but Jenny’s shuffling to and fro—during which she caused a silver plate to roll over to Stella—the bubbly brunette called out with the magic words: “Got it! We’re all set!”

“That’s great!” replied Stella. “Now hurry up and let’s—”

That was when, as usual, the interruption arrived—and it did so in the form of a pirate. One of the twenty pirates that comprised the whole gang. One whose frown was visible even through his thick black mustache and beard.

He crossed his thick arms over his chest, eyes fixed on the thieves. “Hey. What’re you doin’ snoopin’ around here?”

At first, Stella just stared at the pirate. Then she looked at the plate by her feet, then at the pirate, back and forth, before her foot moved to kick the former upwards and forward. Such was her precision that the silver plate found its way into the ceiling—but only after it had ricocheted off the pirate’s crotch. His yelp of pain was louder than a trio of ringing church bells.

Stella made sure he stayed on the wooden floor by firing a couple of bolts into select areas of his clothes, pinning him down. Immediately after, she whipped around to the entrance to the cave where her partner still was. “Jenny! Come on! We are leaving!”

“Huh? Already? Aw, did we make too much noise again?”

“We’re about to make more, actually. Let’s go, go, go!”

Soon enough, Jenny was right behind her, and so the two thieves rushed down the hall. Stella led the way back to the window they had used to come in, only to find that more of the pirates were on their way up. Their thundering footsteps and drunken chatter gave them away, as did their appearance a split second later. The one with the cheesy black hat with the skull-and-crossbones pattern was at the front of the pack.

“Hey, Boss!” cried a buck-toothed pirate. “We got intruders up here!”

Black Hat eyed Buck Tooth with that are you serious? glint in his eye. “Very astute.”

Stella pushed Jenny back the other way, towards the window at the opposite end of the hall, and fired off a few shots at their pursuers. She didn’t look long enough to see how many she’d just pinned to the walls; she just poured everything into reaching that other window and ignoring the angry screams behind her. She also barely registered that she had just stepped on the pirate she’d stuck on the floor a few seconds ago.

Jenny had already busted the window open by the time Stella caught up with her, so the former scurried out first and threw herself onto the rooftop. The blonde thief had no idea how the brunette did that no matter how many times she’d seen the trick, so after she put away her crossbow, she opted instead to grab the rope she saw in front of her.

Why the heck is there a rope here anyway? she thought, getting on it so she could climb up.

Except then she began to descend. Fast.

“Oh, what the freaking—!”

“Stella! That’s the wrong way!” Jenny called after her.

All the blonde thief could muster up for a response was a prolonged “No kiddi-i-i-ing!” as she made a rapid drop to the ground. She spotted a batch of hay, though, and leapt for it before impact. Despite the size of the haystack, it softened her landing only so much. Rolling helped a bit, too, and she managed to land on her feet without any major sprains or broken bones.

Not far from her was a stable sealed off with just a single gate locked by rope. With her crossbow out of bolts, Stella drew her knife as she rushed over. A few sawing motions and a swipe later, and the rope lock was gone. She kicked in the gate doors, causing them to swing open, and ran to where she could see the horses. None of the stalls had doors, so she ran through the whole thing screaming like a madwoman. Her racket was enough to send the horses into a riot, at which point they galloped to the one location they could—towards the gate.

Towards the approaching pirates.

And without any regard to Stella, who was almost run down by nearly half of them.

Oh crud oh crud oh crud— FOR THE LOVE OF CRUMB CAKE WHY

The last of the horses sped past her, hitting her in a way that made her spin in place. She was thus unaware of an elongated object falling in front of her until something suddenly tightened around her waist and tugged. Stella only realized she’d been snagged by a rope after she crashed onto the ground and began to slide across it, which came with the inevitable losing battle she had in trying to keep the dirt out of her mouth and eyes. She couldn’t articulate even half the curse words that were running through her mind due to this, but at least thinking them helped her not think about how sore she was going to be in the morning. Somehow, neither her clothes nor her body suffered anything more than scratches despite how much ground she passed over.

The sole relief she had regarding anything that happened up to that point was that the sounds of chaos at the pirate hideout slowly but surely faded into the distance. It was only after she’d been pulled into some woodlands when a familiar voice called her name twice in an overly excited manner.

In the midst of her now least preferred method of travel, Stella finally caught a glimpse of what exactly was pulling her along. It was Jenny—and by some miracle, she had commandeered a horse, and the other end of the rope had been tied to a protrusion sticking up at the back of the saddle. Jenny stopped the horse, dismounted, and ran to where Stella lay sprawled, grime-covered and aching.

“We made it!” cheered the bubbly thief. Pointing to the rope, she added, “See? Came up with that one myself!”

“Not bad, Jenny,” said a tired Stella. “Thanks for the save.”

“No problem, Boss!”

“You got the loot, right? Or at least the goddess statue?”

Jenny pointed to the bag strapped to her back. “Right here. Managed to grab a bunch of gold, too, along with a bunch of other stuff to sell for more gold.”

“Good. The pirates have probably sent out a search party, so let’s go before they catch up—and when we go, let me ride the horse with you.”

“Sure thing, Boss. Time to mosey!”

Through the pain screaming in her muscles, and with the help of Jenny’s outstretched hand, Stella pulled herself to her feet. Once they mounted the chocolate-colored horse, the latter took the reins with the former sitting behind her. As soon as the blonde thief spurred the horse into motion again, the bubbly one leaned up against her back.

“Can we keep the horsey?” asked Jenny.

“Yes, we can keep the horse,” said Stella. “Where and how did you find it, though?”

“There was another rope at the other corner of the roof, so I rode that one down, and then it fell completely off the pulley, and then I saw this horsey wandering outside the stables. I saw you run in there to make the other horses go crazy, so I circled around the back to see if I could catch you. And I did! With the rope that fell down! And it was just like fishing!”

“That was not like fishing, but great throw on your part.”

“Thanks!” At this, Jenny calmed herself and even glanced behind them once. “So… did we screw up Plan C?”

Stella didn’t have to think on it long before she gave her assessment. “I’d say we incorporated parts of Plans A, B, and C.”

“Does that make it a Plan D?”

“It’ll be Plan Successful if we can make it back to base in one piece.”

“Ooh, that’s even better!”

“Yeah, it will be. Now if only the first plan we came up with actually worked for once….”

For the rest of the night, the chocolate-colored horse and its riders continued to gallop through the woodland back roads. No one followed them, which made it difficult for Stella to determine just how lucky they’d been. She decided in the end that, if nothing were to crop up in the next three days, she could consider that she and Jenny had lucked out once again.

Just like always.

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