The peace agreement was violated. I was barely welcome as a Thief Lord, hadn’t been officially offered the seat yet. Deryk, Edvin, and Corinn, the surviving Thief Lords, thought they could unseat me before I became a Thief Lord recognized by them. They tried to kill me. But they didn’t count on how loyal my followers were.
-the writing on the cell wall
Onna paced rapidly behind Raven’s desk. Her mistress was over two hours late. Dawn would be setting in in just over an hour. Raven was usually home by now.
She chewed on her lips as she waited for Deri to arrive. She’d sent on of the attendants to fetch him; she new he wasn’t out on a job tonight. He, with his silent feet so like Aven’s, would be able to find her and see what had happened. Had Raven and Lady Almi accomplished their goal? Had something happened? Were they celebrating their kill? Was Raven on her way home now? Had Lady Almi turned on Raven?
There were too many questions. They, along with her worry, were whirling around in her head. She was too keyed up to sit and wait to find out. She just couldn’t stop pacing.
Onna wished Aven were still with them. She loved being Raven’s adviser and executioner, but she was still young. Aven had begun to train her early, all of them thinking they had plenty of time before Aven stepped down.
But then Aven was killed. Onna shot to the top, became Raven’s adviser, second in the following to Raven. She was sixteen years old, the same age Raven had been when she’d established herself as a Thief Lord. She was ambitious, but not that ambitious. She hadn’t been fully trained by Aven when he died. There was still so much she didn’t know, didn’t know how to do. She needed him with her. Raven needed him with her. Onna hadn’t yet been trained to accompany Raven on the jobs she took. Raven would have to do that, when things calmed down, of course. But this night had been dangerous. Outside of the underground, Raven herself had never killed anyone. Onna was nervous not just for herself, but Raven as well. Any number of things could have gone wrong.
“Onna?” a voice asked. “You called for me?”
Onna whirled around, dropping her fingers from her mouth, where she had been nervously nibbling her nails down to nubs. Deri was standing on the other side of the desk, hands linked behind his back. He looked alert and ready for whatever Onna had for him, hie eyes focused and serious. It was hard to believe he was only fourteen, just two years younger than her.
“Deri, thank you. I need your help. I need you find out what happened to Raven.”
That made him blink, uncertainty creeping across his face. “What happened to Raven?” he repeated. “What do you mean?”
Onna shook her head and resumed her pacing. She couldn’t help it; her nerves wouldn’t let her remain still. She didn’t have the nerves of steel Raven and Aven did, at least not yet. That, she figured, would come in time. But she didn’t have time this night!
She took a deep breath and said, “Raven went out to murder Lord Sarlik with Lady Almi tonight. Dawn will be here in about an hour and she has not yet returned. I’m frightened, Deri, that something had happened to her. We know Lord Sarlik went to the theater tonight, which ended just before midnight. Raven should be back by now! I need you to find out what happened.”
A thoughtful look crossed Deri’s face as he processed everything she had just said. She waited impatiently, never ceasing her pacing, but casting him annoyed looks now and then.
“I suppose I should start in the Market District,” Deri said. “The theater you said?”
Onna nodded, finally stopping her incessant pacing. “You’ll go find out what happened to her?”
He gave her an indignant look. “Onna, I don’t think you understand this following as well as you think you do. any of us would do anything for Raven. Anything. Of course I’m going to go check it out!”
Onna couldn’t contain herself; she rushed around the desk and hugged him. A surprised look crossed his face before he hesitantly wrapped his arms around her. Though younger than her, he was getting to be taller than her. It put his nose squarely on the top of her head and her short hairs tickled his nose.
“Onna, let me go,” he squeaked out as she squeezed the air from his lungs. “I can’t breathe. You do want me to go find Raven, don’t you?”
Mortified by her own show of emotion, Onna immediately backed away and cleared her throat. “Thank you, Deri.” She nodded and folded her hands over her stomach. “Thank you. Hurry back as soon as you find out what happened.”
Deri nodded and give her a small salute before darting out of the cavern. Feeling relieved and exhausted, Onna collapsed onto Raven’s chair and waited for Deri to return.
The incessant knocking woke the entire household. The kitchen maid was the first to reach it with Tyala following after, pulling on her dressing gown as she flew down the stairs. The twins and the rest of the servants gathered in the entrance hall as the kitchen maid opened the door and peered out, only to see two City Guards standing at the door.
“Who is it?” Tyala demanded as she heard her father’s footsteps making their way downstairs.
The maid didn’t say a word. She just opened the door wider as her young mistress joined her at the door. Tyala’s eyebrows raised as she saw the two guards and their grave expressions.
“I am Lady Tyala Almi, daughter of Lord Emeri and Lady Nyana Almi. My father is on his way down right now. May I help you with something?”
The City Guards bowed to her and one spoke, “Lady Tyala, I have need to speak with your father.”
“Out of my way,” a deep male voice said.
Tyala pasted a smile onto her face. “He’ll be here in just a moment.”
She heard her father’s mutterings before she turned and saw him making his way through the crowd of servants. Her brothers had latched onto the hem of her dressing gown and clung to her as they stared up at the guards with saucer wide eyes.
“What’s going on here?” Lord Almi demanded as he stepped up to the door and pulled it open wider so he and his three children could see what was going on. “What’s happened?”
“Lord Almi?” one of the guards asked. At Lord Almi’s impatient nod, the guard went on, “I’m afraid I have bad news.” He flickered his gaze at the Almi children. “I think you should come to the City Guard office.”
Lord Almi’s face darkened. “I think I know what this is all about. That woman will be the death of me.” He shook his head. “Give me a moment to dress and then I will be on my way.”
The guards nodded and turned away to leave. Lord Almi shut the door and made his way back through the crowd of servants, muttering all the way. The twins, Myor and Liadry, looked up at their sister with confused looks.
“What’s going on, Tya?” Liadry asked nervously.
Tyala shook her her head. “I don’t know, Li.” She looked around at all the faces now staring at her now that her father had gone back upstairs. She frowned at the sight of a missing face. “Where’s Mother?”
The servants looked around, a murmur rippling through them. No on answered her directly, but she caught the gist of their mutterings. None of them had seen Lady Almi.
Lord Almi’s frustrated mutterings met their ears once more. He stopped as he entered the main hall and glared at them all. “Still here, are you?” He clapped his hands. “Well, chop, chop, people. This is still a household and there are still things to do. Hyla, see to my children’s breakfast.”
That said, he made his way to the door, stopping only when Tyala reached out to tug on his sleeve. She looked up at him with wide, concerned eyes.
“Father, what’s going on?”
His expression softened and he shook his head. “That I can’t tell you, Tyala. I’ll be back later.”
Tyala and the twins watched as their father walked out the door and slammed it shut behind him. As soon as the door closed, they could hear him yelling, but couldn’t make out any words. The volume, though, made all three of them jump and the servants immediately dispersed, to gossip most likely was Tyala’s thought.
The chamber maid’s shriek woke her just before Killianne burst into her bedroom. Groggy, Caidy roused herself and shook her head, her curls bouncing around her face. She turned over and sat up to stare in bewilderment at her personal maid.
Killianne was clearly distressed. Her eyes were wet and red and her face looked haunted. She was wringing her hands nervously and her body was visibly shaking.
Caidy gave her a confused smile. “Killianne, what’s going on?”
The woman burst into tears, startling Caidy. Instantly, the young lady threw the covers off and rushed over to the middle-aged woman who had helped raised her from the time of her mother’s death. She wrapped her arms around Killianne and forced the woman over to the bed.
“Killianne,” Caidy said gently. “Is something wrong? Is your family okay?”
The woman only wailed louder and Caidy was starting to feel a little scared.
“I’ll go get my father,” Caidy said gently, trying to untangle herself from the woman, but Killianne only tightened her grasp and a desperate look came over her face.
“My Lady, no!”
Caidy forced a smile. “I’ll be right back. He’s just down the hall. If you’re in distress, I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“You don’t understand, my Lady,” the woman wailed.
Now Caidy was beginning to feel cross. Killianne had told her absolutely nothing. Of course she didn’t understand. “Killianne. What is going on?”
“Your father is dead!” Killianne wailed out.
Caidy’s blood ran cold and she sat heavily at the foot of her bed, on the floor. Her mind was numb and her hands were starting to tingle. She could do little else, but blink in confusion. The floor was cold through her thin nightgown, but she didn’t even register it.
Killianne sat at the foot of the bed, sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with her apron. She could only imagine what her young mistress, the new Lady of Sarlik Manor, was going through. To have lost her mother and younger sibling at three years of age and now her father must be devastating to her. She waited patiently for Caidy to gather herself, to cry, to scream, to do something other than sit on the floor and stare blankly at the walls.
Finally, Caidy spoke. “You’re wrong. Papa can’t be dead.”
Abruptly, she sprang up and ran from her room. She hurried down the hall to her father’s rooms, screaming for her Papa all the way. Killianne ran after her and shooed all the other sobbing servants from Caidy’s path.
“Papa!” Caidy screamed as she finally burst into her father’s bedroom.
She stopped short as she flung open the door between her father’s sitting room and bedroom. The bed was still turned down for the night, but hadn’t been slept in. Her father’s theater clothes and his cloak were no where to be seen. She knew her father liked to sleep with the window cracked, but it was firmly closed.
“No,” Caidy sobbed as she sank down onto the ground.
Kallianne barely caught her mistress. She swept her close, humming the lullaby she used to sing after Lady Sarlik had died. She held Caidy close as the young woman began to sob uncontrollably and clung to the one person other than her father who had always been with her.
“My Lady,” Kallianne said softly, “when you are ready, we will go to the Needle City Infirmary to claim your father’s body.”
That only made Caidy sob even harder.