Aven and I worked hard to bring in loyal followers. They were shy of following a girl, but I proved myself to them. I was a good leader, kind, but firm, giving, yet demanding. My followers were steadfastly loyal. Finally, it was time to face the remaining Thief Lords to establish myself as one of them. It was Aven who gave me my new name. He put an “R” before his own name, to signify I came from him, and called me Raven.”
-writing on the cell wall
She couldn’t sleep. The sun had risen, but she couldn’t sleep. No matter what she did, she just couldn’t sleep. So, she took Onna and Salaida and Kythi to the bath house. A good soak might do her body some good, and it helped that the water was warm.
Raven was furious with herself. She had just barely missed murdering Sarlik as he slept. She had just barely missed feeling his blood on her hands. She had just barely missed getting her revenge for Aven’s death.
Onna was wary of her mistress. Raven was stewing, but she wouldn’t speak. She guessed that Raven’s mission had failed, but she didn’t know how or why. Raven never failed at a job.
Now, Raven was sunk down up to her neck. Her eyes were closed and her head was leaning back on a rolled towel. Onna could see her body was tense and her lips were pressed in a firm line. Raven was very displeased.
Salaida and Kythi kept their distance, following Onna’s silent instructions, communicated to them through subtle gestures. The two young girls were to keep their distance and serve Raven silently and quickly. She didn’t know what Raven’s mood was, but could tell she was tightly coiled.
Cautiously, Onna dared to approach, swimming to join Raven at her side. After all, she was the young woman’s adviser. If she couldn’t get close, who could? Aven had trained her well and she knew he would have gone to her side. Of course, she wasn’t Aven, but she was hand-picked and trained by him to take his place. That had to count for something.
Raven felt a disturbance in the water as Onna slowly approached her. She barked out a laugh, startling the girl. “Aven would do the same. He trained you well, Onna,” she said without opening her eyes.
“He did select me, Raven,” Onna said quietly, cautiously. “If you can’t trust me, who can you trust?”
Slowly, Raven blinked open her eyes and turned to look at Onna. The girl was almost blown away from the depth of Raven’s grief evident in her dark eyes. Raven was far beyond tears; now her eyes were just veiled, but the overwhelmingly sadness could not be masked.
“I left him to die,” Raven whispered. “I left his body to others. I should have brought him home. Why didn’t I bring him home?”
“You did what you had to. You did what Aven would have wanted you to.”
Raven turned away from Onna. She couldn’t stand the look of sympathy on the girl’s face. Aven would have just told her things happen and she had to take them, otherwise why should she call herself a Thief Lord. He was hard on her, but he knew just how far he could go. He had always pushed her, pulled her, stretched her. There was no one else who could do that for her, not even his hand-picked successor.
“Leave me, Onna,” Raven said, her voice tired.
Raven took in a deep breath and then closed her eyes and leaned her head back. Onna looked at her for a moment, watching her breathe and mourn, before turning away and rejoining the bath attendants.
“Is she okay?” Kythi asked in a hushed tone. The petite fourteen-year-old was new and had been taken in to be a bath attendant, a protector to Raven. She was still in awe of the young Thief Lord.
Onna turned to look over her shoulder at their quiet mistress. The water was hardly disturbed around her body. She almost appeared to be dead. Onna remembered how they had lost Sasha here just a few weeks before. But Aven’s death was hitting her harder. Never had Raven lost so many people in so short a time. It had to be weighing heavily on her.
She turned back to Kythi. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
A smile spread across Corinn’s face as his lookout reported what he had seen. This was just the icing on the cake after the news of Aven’s death. He wasn’t completely sure of what it all meant, but it did point to an unstable Raven. She was devastated, as the boy was telling him. It had been days and she was still in deep mourning.
Raven wouldn’t be thinking clearly. She could be impulsive and have her guard down. Of course, she could be reacting differently and be even more sharper. She could make many mistakes, or work flawlessly. The woman had never before lost a member of her following to another’s hands. Of course, Aven had had to execute a handful for disloyalty, but that had been on her orders.
No, Raven had never lost anyone that close to her before. And now to lose her closest friend and adviser? It was also rumored that the man had been Raven’s lover. There was no evidence of that, but he didn’t doubt it was true. They were too close to not be lovers.
He didn’t know how Raven operated while grieving, but he was sure it would put him at an advantage. Her mindset would be different and it might be easier to get at her and stab a knife through her own heart.
Corinn pulled out a silver coin and flipped it to his lookout. The boy turned it over with awe. Never before had he ever been paid for any of his work. He couldn’t believe he actually held real money in his hands.
“Good work, kid,” Corinn said, turning away from the boy and dismissing him with a wave.
Only the sound of footsteps told him the boy had left. Like Raven and Deryk, he was based underground. His network wasn’t as extensive as Raven’s, but it was mostly because his following was smaller than hers, so they required fewer caverns and less space.
Quin emerged from the shadows he usually hid in. He was a silent one, and that’s what Corinn liked about him. He understood all his orders and only offered his advice when Corinn demanded it. The man followed his words to a T. That had been a problem with his last adviser. Pyner had been too focused in the “advising” part of being his adviser.
“What do you think?” Corinn asked, not looking at his adviser. “Do you think now would be the time to go after her, attack her, bring her down?”
“The woman is unstable,” Quin said, his voice soft and silky, not too different from Corinn’s own oily voice. “She could be capable of anything.”
Corinn nodded. “Yes. That is true. I thought the same.”
“Would you like my advice?” Quin asked.
Corinn turned to him and blinked. “Yes. I would, actually. What would you do?”
“I would survey her a little longer, perhaps another day, but no longer than that. We cannot give her too much time to recover. If we are to strike, now would be the time. Of course, we must be careful, so we must have a closer eye on her.”
The Thief Lord nodded and folded his hands over his lean stomach. “I thought that, too. We cant’ wait too long, but we do need more information. Quin, it’s been far too long since you last served as a shadow.”
A smile spread across Quin’s face. “I would be happy to follow the woman.”
Corinn nodded. “Good. Keep watch for her and follow her closely whenever she exits her caverns.”
Quin bowed to his master and murmured, “As my Thief Lord wishes.”
And that’s exactly what Corinn loved so much about the man.
They met at the Angelic Church, their cloaks covering them from head to toe. It was late afternoon and there were people milling around in the Town Square. Most wore their cloaks, but few had the hood up. They feared they looked suspicious, but, for the most part, everyone ignored them.
Caidy and Tyala had requested a private meeting with the Bishop. The old woman had agreed, and the girls were close to being late to their meeting. It had been harder than Caidy had thought to get out of the house.
Last night, someone had attempted to murder her father. She didn’t know who it might have been or why they were driven to kill him, but the attempt had occurred. Her father had stepped up the security around the manor. The City Guard took attempted murders quite seriously, apparently.
Caidy had been concerned about her father, but suspected it had occurred because of the feud. Tyala had agreed, and they were still in firm agreement that the feud had to end.
Tyala waited while Caidy paid her respects to her mother. Tyala, herself, said a silent prayer to the late Lady Sarlik. She remembered Caidy’s mother. She had only known the woman from a distance, but knew her friend’s mother to be a good woman with a golden heart. She had married into the feud and had disagreed with it, but her husband was master of the house, so she followed him. She had, though, imparted her beliefs to Caidy, and now the two girls were working hard to end the feud.
“Ready?” Caidy whispered as she rejoined her friend.
Tyala nodded and they hurried down a narrow hallway towards the Bishop’s meeting room. Their footsteps echoed as they hurried along, but they didn’t really care. The further they went, the further away they came from the sanctum. There was no one here to see them and wonder at them.
They were a little out of breath by the time they burst into the meeting room. But the Bishop only smiled in welcome at their rude entrance and bid them enter and approach her.
The meeting room was a rather small chamber with a single window to light the room. There was a small table amid a cluster of chairs. Dainty cookies and a tea tray sat upon the table and the Bishop served each girl as they took a seat before her.
“What ails you, my children?” the Bishop asked softly.
“You know about our families’ feud,” Caidy began, being the braver of the two.
The Bishop nodded. “Yes. I am well aware of it from what I hear and what you both have told me. Have you made up your minds?”
Tyala and Caidy exchanged looks before Caidy said, “We’re going to run away. Tyala’s aunt lives in another city. She wants nothing to do with the feud, too. I think we would be safe there.”
The Bishop folded her hands on her lap and looked from girl to girl. “In time, this feud will end. I fear it will be in a very unexpected way, but the important thing is that you have made a decision.”
“But is it the right one?” Tyala asked nervously, scrunching up her cloak in her hands and wringing it with her sweaty hands.
“I can’t tell you that. You know what is right and wrong. You know what is best for you. It could mean running away or it could mean staying and standing your ground. I can’t make your choice for you. I can only help you come to a choice.”
Caidy and Tyala traded looks again. They had hoped the Bishop would tell them their plan was the right one. Instead, they were being asked to determine for themselves what was the right course of action.
“What do you think?” Caidy asked her friend, her voice quiet, but not so quiet the Bishop couldn’t hear.
“I still say we leave,” Tyala said, dropping her eyes to her nervous, shaking hands. “My aunt wouldn’t send us back here. She would take care of us. Besides, shouldn’t we be allowed to choose for ourselves whether or not we want to be involved in a feud?”
Caidy nodded in agreement. “I would think so. My father makes me think I don’t have a choice, but I know I do. This feud is getting out of hand. My father was almost killed last night because of this feud. I don’t want my life to be similarly endangered. I’m with you, Tyala. We have to leave.”
Both girls swung their gazes to the Bishop, but she appeared to be smiling in her sleep.
Tyala leaned over to her friend, her eyes wide. “She hasn’t died, has she?” she whispered.
Caidy shrugged, her face turning ashen.
Abruptly, the Bishop gave a small laugh. “You have made your choice, girls. Now go carry it out and live with whatever consequences and rewards that choice brings to you.”
Thoroughly spooked, the girls had never left the Angelic Church faster.