My following continued to grow and grow while the other Thief Lords’ remained at status quo. I was pleased, but they were not. I didn’t know they were planning on killing me, but thankfully Aven is always thinking of these things and was smart enough to keep eyes and ears out to keep me safe. I owe my life to Aven.
-writing on the cell wall
Quin leaned against the desk as he gave his report to Corinn, his arms crossed over his chest. He spoke quietly and concisely, reporting what he had heard and seen hiding out near Raven’s cavern network.
Corinn was leaning back in his seat, his fingers steepled. He had a grave look on his face with flashes of what looked like inspiration fleeting by every so often. Quin wasn’t sure what those looks meant, but he kept up his stream of words. He hardly ever knew what his Thief Lord was thinking, but he trusted Corinn. Corinn was probably the only one he truly trusted.
“Thank you, Quin,” Corinn said softly as his adviser finished.
“If I may ask,” Quin said carefully, “what exactly are you planning?”
“I’m not sure yet, Quin,” Corinn admitted. His adviser was the only one he would admit such a thing to. To the rest of the following, he knew exactly was he was doing at all moments. “But I find it interesting that Lord Almi went to visit Raven. Usually, Lady Almi goes to a Thief Lord on her own. And you said they both returned tonight?”
“Hmm. I don’t know what to think, but the three of them must be planning something.” He pursed his lips. “If only I could get into her cavern network, then I would know what she’s planning. Quin, follow the Almis when they leave. Keep an ear out just in case they discuss something related to what they want Raven for. We must undermine her, cut her down, make the nobility believe she is no longer trustworthy. Then we can better catch her off guard and be rid of her.”
Quin nodded and, without another word, turned on his heel and left Corinn to his thoughts. He was Corinn’s adviser, but the Thief Lord still assigned important work to him. And, sometimes, that work was more important than the adviser role he served for Corinn. He lived for that kind of work.
Lord and Lady Almi arrived right on time. Raven had a feeling they wouldn’t sit idle for long. She thought they would come right away for her help. So, she had ordered Onna to let no one by the Almis through to her that night. This was an important job, one she would have hired herself to do. It was too important to risk any interruptions. She was intent on being focused on working with the Lord and Lady to exact not only their, but her, revenge on Lord Sarlik. The man was responsible for a great deal of grief in all their lives.
Onna promptly ushered the couple in as soon as they arrived. Lord Almi was still a little leery of her, she could tell. He kept a wary eye on her as he slid onto one of the chairs Onna had rustled up. Lady Almi was a little more graceful and much more comfortable. Of course, there had been stories for the past few years that Lady Almi used to visit Thief Lords with her father as a way of him teaching her how to keep the feud alive.
Raven looked from one to the other, watching as they both moved their hoods to reveal their faces. She bestowed a gentle, welcoming smile on them. She had to be particularly careful of Lord Almi. This was only the second time he had been to see a Thief Lord. She didn’t want to scare him off. She and all the other Thief Lords needed the jobs the nobility and other wealthy had for them.
“I’m glad to see you chose to return so quickly,” Raven began.
Lady Almi leaned forward slightly. “We would do anything to keep our daughter with us.”
Raven nodded. “Yes. Lord Almi told me everything last night. I will, of course, do everything I can to ensure your daughter and the young Lady Sarlik turn against each other.”
“That’s exactly why we have come to you,” Lady Almi said.
Raven gave her a smile. “And that’s what most people come to me for.” She cleared her throat. “I understand you want Lord Sarlik dead.”
Both Almis nodded, though Lord Almi looked much more uncomfortable about it than his wife did. Raven wouldn’t be surprised if Lady Almi had had a hand in other deaths along the way. Her husband, though, was so very new to all of this that she gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Lord Almi, if you are distressed, you do not have to stay,” Raven said.
He tugged at the collar of his white shirt and swallowed. “No, I think I’ll be okay. This is all just very new to me. I never wanted to get mixed up in this feud. I always wanted to see it end. But I want to keep my daughter from running away even more.”
Raven nodded. “Of course. I understand. I, too, have a bone to pick with Lord Sarlik.
Lady Almi was very interested in that. Her wide eyes went even wider and she leaned forward even more. There was a brightness in her eyes and a look of excitement on her face. Raven took all this in with a sweeping glance over the woman. She had Lady Almi’s full attention.
“You may have noticed, Lady Almi,” Raven said, “that the last time you were here there was a gentleman attending to me, but now there is a young lady.”
She nodded slowly. “I did notice that.” She was frowning now, not quite sure of where the Thief Lord was going with this.
“His name was Aven. He was my closest friend, my mentor, someone I looked up to. He helped establish me as a Thief Lord, as the most powerful Thief Lord, in fact. He was also my adviser.
“Lady Almi, Aven and I assumed the job you hired me for would be simple and we would be in and out of the Sarlik Manor in a flash. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned.
“You see, Aven was killed by Lord Sarlik. I watched him die and I could do nothing without revealing myself and risk my own death. Now I, too, want revenge on Lord Sarlik.
“It was like a divine gift from the skies when you, Lord Almi, came to me and told me you want Lord Sarlik dead. We have a common goal and I would be very happy to work with you.
“Now, I ask of you something I have never before asked of any of my patrons. Would you like to have a hand in this murder?”
Lady Almi was taken aback. The Thief Lords had always taken care of anything. All the nobility ever had to do was to pay them and wait. Being asked to be involved in the job was simply unheard of. But it did appeal to her on so many levels.
Raven could see Lady Almi considering it. There was a thoughtful look on her face. Her husband, though, was apparently having internal fits. His face was clouded and his eyes hooded. He clearly didn’t like the idea.
“You don’t have to make this decision right now,” Raven said gently. “It is a rather large thing I am asking of you. It has never been done before and it will probably never be done again, but I wanted to make the offer to you. The Sarliks have caused the Galtons much pain and I thought Lady Almi might like a hand in her rival’s downfall.”
Lady Almi began to nod, but her husband cut her off. “I’m not sure that would be the best course of action for us,” he said abruptly. “We will need time to talk and think it over.”
Raven nodded understandingly. “Certainly. Take you time. Return to me when you have decided.”
Lord Almi immediately stood up, taking his wife’s elbow. “Come, Nyana. We have much to discuss.”
His wife looked like she was going to protest, but Lord Almi gave her a look, effectively silencing her. Raven gave a slight wave and Onna materialized from the entrance to the cavern.
“Onna will show you out,” Raven said softly.
“This way,” Onna said, coming up quietly behind the Almis.
After a start, Lord Almi followed her, dragging his wife behind him.
Quin wasn’t startled when the Almis suddenly emerged from Raven’s cavern network; no, he had been expecting them. So, when they emerged from the dark depths of the cavern network, he was waiting for them and was quick to slide into the shadows as they quickly left the slums.
“What was that all about?” he heard Lady Almi hiss as her husband was grasping her by the elbow and led her along.
Lord Almi didn’t say a word until they had crossed into the Market District. Then he stopped and turned his wife so they were practically nose to nose. Quin drifted closer to them on silent feet as he slipped deeper into the black shadows.
“You aren’t seriously considering the Thief Lord’s offer, are you?” Lord Almi asked in a quiet voice.
“Well, why not?”
“Nyana! If we get caught, we’ll be charged with murder. There will be no way out of it. That’s why we hire the Thief Lords. Committing crimes is their territory. They know what they’re doing, they’re the ones with the expertise. There is no reason for us to get involved.”
Lady Almi took a step back and crossed her arms. Quin could only imagine how cross she was. He wasn’t sure of what Raven had offered them, but she was apparently keen on the idea while Lord Almi was more cautious.
“Emeri, don’t you want our daughter to stay in Needle City? If we don’t do something, she’ll run away! And you know my sister won’t send her back unless that’s what Tyala wants. Are you willing to risk losing our daughter.”
“I don’t want to lose her, either, but think of what we’ll be doing if we agree to working with Raven to kill Sarlik. There could be huge ramifications! We could lose our daughter anyways.”
Ah, Quin thought to himself. That’s why they had gone to Raven. The Almis wanted Lord Sarlik dead. Of course, he wasn’t completely sure why, but he knew Corinn would want to know. He was sure his Thief Lord had some plans.
“I don’t want to lose her, Emeri,” Lady Almi said quietly. “And my family has been feuding for so long with the Sarliks. This was bound to happen sooner or later.”
“Yes,” Lord Almi agreed. “That’s true. But it was supposed to be a Thief Lord that committed the murder, not us. Why would you want to be involved, Nyana, why?”
“Because,” she said softly, “Sarlik was the one who killed my father. It’s his daughter that Tyala wants to run away with. It’s because of him that we’re all so miserable.”
“No,” Lord Almi cut in. “We’re miserable because of this feud. I’m not saying Lord Sarlik shouldn’t die. I’m saying I don’t want to be involved in the murder.”
“Well, I will be, Emeri, and that’s the end of that. I don’t care what you decide to do, but I have to do this for myself.”
With that said, Lady Almi whirled around and stomped off as though she were a child in the midst of a tantrum. Quin watched Lord Almi sigh and rub his fingers against his temples. It looked like this wasn’t the first time the couple had had an argument like this. After spending a moment muttering to himself, Lord Almi finally walked off after his wife, leaving Quin in the shadows.
There was no need for him to follow the couple any further. He already had all the information he needed. Besides, it didn’t look like the Almis would be discussing anything of any importance anymore. And he had a Thief Lord to return to.