The basement was dark and cool, the heavy table lit only by a couple of flickering candles. Sitting in big chairs were a number of shadowy, though suspiciously small, figures. One of them leant forward and rapped on the table, quieting the hushed whispering.
“Right fellas, we all here?” the young voice asked, instantly identifiable to those who knew the City’s urchins as Tepic, the fox boy. Round the table there was a succession of responses, each figure giving their name – Nat, the lad with a wooden led, Jimmy, of the Aether Adventure fame, Cyan the cheetah cub, and Nathan the thinker.
Looking round, Tepic asked if they had all heard about the raven that had been stealing souls, specifically urchin souls. There followed a slightly confused conversation regarding why a bird would want an urchin’s shoes, and the nature of the bird. Once this had been sorted out, at least as much as it could to the original thinkers of the Under Thirteen Club, the discussion moved on to what should be done about it.
Some were in favour of knocking off all the ravens in the City, on the premise that if you get the lot, you get the one you were after too. Remembering back to the day before, when the citizenry had gone on a raven offensive, it was decided that this may not be the best approach. It was also clear that the usual weapons, though inconveniencing the bird, didn’t seem to cause much real damage. The call for designing bigger, better and more effective weapons, possibly using Tesla coils, was very attractive – what urchin could resist the chance to carry a gun bigger than themselves into battle, saving the day with impressive explosive power? It was with reluctance that they dropped the idea, and began to look at ways to trap the bird, use one of the reality enforcers to make it cough up anything stolen from urchins, and make it promise to leave Mr. Arnold alone.
After what Miss Book had said earlier about using the Asylum Belfry for a trap, Tepic had taken the precaution of going there and making a diagram, which he now proudly rolled out on the table, only to realise no one could see it in the dark… “errr… anyone got a light?”
From the various chairs there was a rummaging sound, and within minutes the room was brightly lit from assorted lanterns, the boys examining the drawing excitedly. At that moment there was a pounding on the trapdoor at the head of the stairs. With practiced swiftness the lanterns were doused, and a querulous voice spoke up “who’s there?”
“it’s me, zaida, let me in!” came the reply. After a quick whispered discussion, they decided it was Zaida and let her in to join them, bringing her swiftly up to date.
Now they had the location for the trap, and the diagram to show them the place they had to work with, ideas came quick and fast, though none of them had much mechanical experience. Several of the urchins wished that Gadget was around, his traps were famous for size and effectiveness. However, they began to put together what should be a simple but efficient plan! The belfry had an inner structure of thick wooden beams, that could be draped with fishing nets – of which there was a plentiful supply down by the Docks – to provide a safe place for Dr. Lionheart,who was to be the bait, and to enclose the bird. There was some discussion over quite how Dr Lionheart was going to attract the raven, with Jimmy asking if it was some sort of romantic thing. He was much happier, as were all of the urchins, to learn it had more to do with a blood feud. They were all rather wary of the affairs of the heart, but a good feud was something they could get their teeth into!
They knew the efforts to net the raven in the streets had failed, and voice the opinion this was due to the bird having too much space. Once they could get it into the belfry it would be easier, and there was a section of the end window that could be opened, allowing the bird to fly in. One of the urchins could then slam it shut, and the others herd the bird into the waiting nets. Jimmy suggested setting a net to fall on the raven, and then the idea of dropping a bell onto it was brought up. The room became quiet as they all thought about this, it was the sort of spectacular trap they all dreamed of, a gang of heroic urchins cleverly dropping a massive metal bell onto the villain of the story. They imagined the booming sound the bell would make, announcing their success, and the impossibility of escape. It was wonderful, it was ….. huge…it was… going to go wrong. There was a collective sigh as the realisation dawned, and they regretfully went back to the first idea. Zaida thought up the idea of driving the bird using slingshots, which most of them had, and although they knew they were unlikely to hurt it with their prefered weapon, they knew they could use them that way. Gradually, the plan was coming together.
They were poring over the diagram when Jimmy suddenly realised that the stairs could be an escape route for the raven, tricksy as it was. He and Cyan pondered the problem, eventually coming up with the solution of stacking planks up in the room, and covering the open stairwell with them when they were ready to spring the trap.
They were refining the idea of the nets, thinking about the lobster pots they had all seen down by the Port, when they heard a familiar voice through the wall – it was Tubby, wondering to himself where all the birds had come from! The group fell silent, and they could all hear the crow of one of the dreaded birds. Zaida immediately yelled that they had to let Tubby in, and there was a hurried discussion, rapidly coming to the conclusion that even though he wasn’t yet an Under Thirteen member, saving Tubby from the ravens was the first priority! Quickly they opened the trapdoor, and yelled for their friend to come round to the shop. The boy arrived in view, being dive bombed by the corvines, arms flailing to keep them away. Tepic opened the front door just enough to let him slip in, then slammed it shut in a cloud of black feathers!
Safely back down in the cellar, Tubby was revived by the application of cookies, supplied by a concerned Zaida, followed by a more general munching as they were passed round the company. Darkly, Nathan wondered how long the birds had been up above their hideout, though it was unlikely they would have been able to hear the urchins plans. Now that Tubby was down in the secret headquarters, they decided he had better become a member of the Under Thirteens, and was sworn in with deep and solemn oaths, as was their custom. Jimmy had been looking at the large lad with an expert eye, and suddenly piped up “Tubby could be th’ window slammer!”
They all inspected their friend critically, and round a mouthful of cookie he said “Oh yeah I can slam windows good!”
It was a good thought, if Tubby closed the window, then stayed in front of it, the urchins didn’t think anything was going to get out!
Nathan was worried the over occupied raven, who seemed to hold their old adversary Metier as well as some sort of other creature, might try to take over one of the urchins if they captured it, but Cyan told them about the reality enforcer Miss Book would get hold of. Once they had trapped the bird, and placed it in a cage, the device would prevent it from doing horrible stuff to them, and they could make it do what they wanted.
There was the problem of the Asylum owner, who was a strange old cove, but from what Miss Book had told them, this was almost a Militia operation, so they would be all legal and above board. Some of them looked a little uneasy at this, they were not used to being on the same side as the Militia, though they had no particular gripe with them, it was just much more natural to be running away from them than working with them…..
The night was getting on, and the plan as formed as any urchin one, with things to do, bits to scrounge, and people to chat to. The cookies were mostly munched, so the youngsters started to head off on their different ways, keeping a wary eye out for any birds hanging around. They would start ferrying nets, wood, tools and other bits and bobs up to the belfry, and start putting together their trap, ready to spring when the time was ripe! The Under Thirteen Club was back in business!