Aven took me away right away. He knew there would be trouble from the other Thief Lords. He wanted to protect me. So, he took me underground into secret tunnels only he and a few others knew about under the Sapphire District. There, we worked our magic and developed a following, a following Aven allowed me to lead.
-the writing on the cell wall.
Conducting her nightly business without Aven was strange. Everything seemed to be the same, operated the same. Aven had trained Onna well to be Raven’s next adviser. She had made the change as seamless as possible for Raven, but every time Raven turned to look at her adviser she expected to see Aven, not Onna.
Barrister Salway was mumbling something about wanting Raven to terrorize someone. She couldn’t quite understand the man. For a barrister, he wasn’t very articulate. He was sitting across from her with his legs crossed and his hands clasped around his knee. His thinning graying hair looked a little wispy and was in disarray from having been stuffed under the hood of his cloak. His steely gray eyes were roving all around the cavern, falling everywhere except on Raven.
Eventually, it came to the point where Raven had to hold up a hand and shake her head. She had just met the man and already she was exasperated with him. Usually, it took a couple of visits for that to happen. And, unfortunately, she wasn’t familiar with his feud with whichever family. Neither had ever come to her before.
“Barrister Salway,” Raven said, breaking into his mumbled monologue. “For a barrister, you’re hardly easy to understand. Would you please stop mumbling so I can actually help you?”
The man blinked at her before his eyes instantly shifted away. He shifted uncomfortably in the seat and cleared his throat.
“I’ve previously used Thief Lord Deryk’s services,” he said, much slower and clearer.
Raven smiled at him. “That’s better, Barrister. Now I can understand you. Were you displeased with Deryk’s services?”
Barrister Salway grimaced. “His men bungled the last job I hired them for. I hired him to forge some notes supposedly from Barrister Rayly. That man has been a burr in my side for the past twenty years. Those notes were supposed to be his undoing, but that Thief Lord’s men made a mess of it and they were written off as jokes.”
Raven gave him a patient smile. “Yes. I can see how frustrating that can be. I’m glad you decided to try my services. I guarantee you I provide excellent work. There is a steep price, but I care about my people and they always work quickly, efficiently, and correctly.”
Salway nodded. “I had heard. Your services came highly recommended. I can pay your price, Thief Lord, never fear.”
“What exactly are you hiring me to do?” she asked.
Salway uncrossed his legs and leaned forward as though to engage in conspiratorial whispers. “I want your men to terrorize Barrister Rayly’s oldest son, Balier. Rayly and I have an important trial we’re starting in two days and I want Rayly’s mind on everything but the trial. I don’t want you to actually hurt the boy; just scare him badly enough that his father takes notice.”
Raven nodded thoughtfully. “I have just the man.” She turned to find Aven and was once again struck by the sight of Onna. She drew in a sharp breath and then nodded for the girl to come closer. “Bring me Pyoder.”
Onna nodded and hurried from the cavern. Raven focused her eyes back on the barrister, who was once again looking everywhere but at her.
“Barrister, my fee is three gold coins and six silver coins for my services, to be split. The first half will be paid this night and the second half to be paid in three days’ time if you are satisfied with my services. If you are not sufficiently satisfied, simply write a note and have it sent to the Angelic Church. One of my men will be waiting there in three days to either receive the note or the remainder of my feel. I also require five gold coins to be sent to the City Guard for my and my following’s protection.”
The Barrister nodded and fumbled for a coin pouch secured around his waist. “Yes, yes, of course. That is a bit more than Thief Lord Deryk’s fees, but I have heard you are good.”
Raven waited patiently as the man counted out half of her fee. By the time she had collected up the coins, Onna had returned with Pyoder. No one was better at psychological fear and terror than this man. He would do a number on the Rayly boy.
“Barrister, this is Pyoder. He will terrorize the Rayly boy for you.”
Salway turned and looked the young man up and down. He was tall and slim with a head of thick auburn hair streaked with gold and eyes as steely gray as his own. His features were rather plain and he looked, well, plain. He was the type of man who could blend in anywhere and not be seen.
Pyoder bowed his head to Salway. “It will be my pleasure to serve you, sir.”
“Pyoder,” Raven said, “Barrister Salway would like you to terrorize Balier Rayly, the son of Barrister Rayly. This must begin as soon as possible and will end in three days’ time. You are not to hurt him; simply terrorize him and put fear in his heart, so much fear that his father become more preoccupied with his son than his upcoming trial.”
Pyoder bowed at the waist to his Thief Lord. “Of course, Thief Lord. I will start plotting right away.” He turned to Barrister Salway. “It will be an honor to work on your behalf, sir.”
Barrister Salway gave a faint smile and looked the man up and down again. He had faith in Raven and hoped she would come through for him. Raven, for her part, felt a twinge of sadness, knowing Aven would just be shaking his head behind her, trying very hard to stifle a laugh. Pyoder was so cavalier and Barrister Salway was a quivering mass of nerves.
Raven slid a long, slender knife into it’s sheath running up the outside of her black pants leg. Straightening, she smoothed her black skin tight clothes and peered over her shoulder at Onna. She still expected to see Aven, still expected to feel him smooth away a stray strand of hair or smooth out the back of her clothes. But he wasn’t there anymore.
Onna stood behind her, her arms folded across her chest. An unreadable look was on her face and her eyes gave away nothing. Now that the girl was no longer Raven’s decoy, she was growing out her hair, so it was a touch longer than Raven’s. She wore black, but hers was a black blouse and long skirt since she would not be going out with Raven this evening. She had a golden necklace sparkling around her neck; Raven would never be caught dead wearing jewelry. No, Onna was not longer the decoy; she was the adviser and executioner.
“Aven would look at me with reproach,” Raven said softly, turning to face the girl. “You are not Aven and you may not look at me in that way.”
Onna scowled and her arms twitched, but they were already crossed as tightly as they could be across her chest. “I may not be Aven and you may have forbidden me from acting like him, but I can still disagree with this course of action. What will killing Lord Sarlik get you, Raven?”
Raven clenched her hands to flex the black leather covering them. The material silently moved with her movements. “Revenge,” was Raven’s only reply.
Without another word, Raven strode out of her bedchamber. With the scowled still in place, Onna followed.
“At least let me come with you. I’ll be your eyes and ears.”
That made Raven pause and whirl on her new adviser. “You would have me risk the life of another adviser?” Raven stepped close to the girl, almost coming eye to eye, she was so close. “You forget, Onna. Lord Sarlik killed Aven. The man could very well kill again. I will not risk the life of another adviser. Do you understand me?”
Onna pursed her lips, but nodded.
That done, Raven whirled around and made her way out of her underground network of caverns. She strode through the slums, being her own lookout for the other Thief Lords and their followings. But they must be busy this night because she sensed no one following or watching her and she came across no one from the other followings. She was alone this night, and she was thankful for that. She had a plan for revenge, and she was dangerous this night.
This night, Lord Sarlik would die.
As soon as she entered the Market District, her movements changed. Her bold stride through the slums, her own territory, became a slink as she moved from shadow to shadow to hide from the City Guard.
Instead of taking the direct route through the Town Square, she instead crossed Skywalk Promenade, dividing the Market District from The Commons. Here, three, four, and five story apartment buildings rose on either side of the narrow streets. These, as in all the other districts excepting the slums and Factory District, were cobbled with light brown, white, black, and gray stones and smoothed over so wheels had a flatter surface to travel over. It also ensured fewer wheels were lost or broken.
The apartment buildings were dark. It was, after all, well after midnight. She quickly skirted around Arel Gardens. She didn’t think she would be able to return any time soon. It reminded her too strongly of Aven and the dawn they had spent together. Never again would they be able to watch the dawn together, explore the city, or swing up onto a cloister covered with vines.
She continued her way around the city, crossing Needle Promenade, dividing The Commons from the Emerald District, where the upper class resided. These people were very wealthy, some even more so than the nobility, but they could never live in the Sapphire District; only those of noble blood could, unless they were the Parliament President.
The residences in the Emerald District were grand, but not as grand as those in the Sapphire District. Many of the homes, especially those covering extensive ground, had fine gardens, colorful and sweet smelling, an echo of the Sapphire District. These people would do anything to emulate the nobility. It sickened Raven. She never took any jobs necessitating being in the Emerald District. It was far too pretentious to her.
Finally, she crossed the Esplanade into the Sapphire District. It was quite fortunate the Sarlik Manor was just off of the Esplanade. There were fewer other manors she had to worry about, manors where people might be peeking.
Silently, Raven crept onto the manor grounds. She could hear movement, foot steps moving evenly in time. Those foot steps could only belong to the City Guard. Only they were that disciplined.
She wasn’t surprised Lord Sarlik and his daughter were being protected by the City Guard. It happened periodically when a job went bad and the nobility were spooked. But it never lasted for more than a few days.
The City Guards didn’t scare Raven. If anything, she was even more determined. She could almost taste her revenge, could almost feel Lord Sarlik’s warm, red blood spilling over her bare hands. For this, she would remove her gloves.In her mind’s eye, she could see the look of fear and horror in Lord Sarlik’s eyes as they light went out of them, just as the light had gone out of Aven’s eyes.
She grit her teeth. She had to do this. She had to get her revenge. Sarlik had stolen her best friend, lover, and adviser from her. She would steal his life from his body.
She worked silently and automatically. With surprise, she realized she was entering the manor; she had no recollection of it. Her skills and instincts and training had moved her while her mind was preoccupied. She felt lucky she hadn’t been caught.
Raven knew exactly which door would lead to Lord Sarlik. Down one hall, where Caidy’s rooms were, there was a guard, but Sarlik’s rooms were in another hallway and were not protected. It appeared the man was more concerned about his daughter than himself. At least he had his priorities straight. And it made her job easier.
She silently ghosted into Lord Sarlik’s chambers. Silvery moonlight bathed part of the sitting room, casting shadows long and tall over the rest of the room. The moonlight lit up the door to the bedroom, and Raven was glad to see it was partially open. That would eliminate the need to open the potentially creaky door.
She slipped into the bedroom and quietly unsheathed her knife. On the broad bed was a sleeping figure, the covers pulled up the chest. Lord Sarlik slept on his side with his mouth open. A soft snore came from him, but it was barely audible to Raven’s ears.
Quietly, she approached the bed and raised her knife. She brought the blade down quickly, her body shielding the moonlight from sparkling on the blade. It was as hungry for blood as Raven was.
But Lord Sarlik shifted, moved further away from her. Her blade whispered just past him and struck the bed. Cursing inwardly, she pulled the knife from the bed, but there was no way she could go back for the kill.
Lord Sarlik had come awake with a start. He gasped and his body shifted as he struggled to sit up to find out what had disturbed him. By the time he had turned himself over, his fingers brushed against the hole the knife had made, Raven was only a silhouette against the window. She vanished a moment later.