The three remaining Thief Lords descended on me and my following one afternoon. Aven was smart enough to appoint guards and it’s a good thing he did that. We would all be dead if not for those guards. As it was, we barely managed to get the Thief Lords surrounded. Our peace agreement came out of that encounter.
-writing on the cell wall
It had been two days since Caidy had received the note from her friend. She hadn’t even seen Tyala since that morning when she’d left the note. She worried about her friend, but knew that, at least, Tyala hadn’t left without her.
She still couldn’t believe Tyala had told her parents about them. Even she hadn’t dared reveal anything to her father! Her father didn’t know she had planned to run away, didn’t know Tyala Almi was her best friend, didn’t know she still planned on leaving.
Caidy didn’t want any part of the feud. She knew it would end with her father’s death, though she was dreading that moment. Even if Lord or Lady Almi died, the feud would probably still continue. Lord Almi wasn’t the sort of person to want to keep a feud alive, but what she knew of the twin boys, they were mischievous and Lady Almi had recently begun to introduce them to the feud.
But, with her father gone, it would just be her against the Almis. She would be able to choose what to do and what not to do. The Almis could do whatever they wanted to her, but she would not retaliate.
“Caidy?” her father’s voice came.
She turned from where she sat at her vanity, dropping the hairbrush from her fingers. Even though it was close to afternoon, she was still in her dressing gown and a breakfast tray still sat on the low table in her sitting room. She’d told her father she hadn’t been feeling well, and that was partially true. The thought that Tyala was trapped made her feel ill.
Caidy forced a smile to her pale face and stood so she could kiss her father’s cheek in greeting. “Hello, Papa.”
Sarlik hugged his daughter tightly before pulling back and leading her over to the little sofa. “How are you feeling today, Caidy?”
She mulled the question over for a few moments before answering. “I think I’m feeling a little better, Papa, but I’m not ready to go out yet.”
“This afternoon is the Academy’s tea,” he reminded her. “You’ve never missed it before.”
She paled slightly at that. Tyala and her parents were usually there, though the two families usually kept to opposite sides of the room. The fact that the Almis now knew their daughter and Caidy were friends was very likely to play out at the tea. It would destroy her father to know she was best friends with Tyala Almi.
“Papa,” she said slowly, “I don’t think I’m well enough for that.”
He looked at her with concern. “Are you sure, Caidy? Should I call for the physician? You haven’t been well for the past few days.”
Caidy gave him a small smile. “I’ll be fine, Papa. I just need a little more rest. Perhaps tomorrow we can dine out?”
“Are you sure, angel?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes, Papa. Just give me another day. And let the Academy know I’m not feeling well enough to attend the tea this year.”
“If your’re sure,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“I’m sure, Papa.”
“All right, angel. Go back to bed and I will let the Academy know.”
Caidy nodded and watched her father leave. He closed the door on the way out and she sagged against the sofa, suddenly feeling very tired.
Corinn rubbed his eyes. It was the middle of the afternoon and he should be asleep, but Quin’s news last night kept revolving in his head. The Almis had hired Raven to murder Lord Sarlik and Raven had asked them to take part in it.
That was a first. No Thief Lord had ever invited a client to work with them. It was unheard of. But so was a female Thief Lord. Raven had certainly turned their Thief Lord council on its head, and he wasn’t always pleased about it.
Deryk and Edvin were no more pleased about the girl than he was, but they had accepted her as one of them. She seemed indestructible, countering their every attack. Of course, they hadn’t really meant to kill her, except for their last attempt, but now the peace agreement was null and void. They could kill her and face no ramifications.
And yet, those other two Thief Lords didn’t even want to be around him. He had caught glimpses of the two of them with their heads close together, but every time he got close to them, they would give him a wary look.
The still blamed him for the loss of their peace agreement. He could only think of them as getting soft.
Quin walked into the cavern and slumped into the chair across from Corinn. He yawned and scratched at his stomach. Corinn had awoken him for the same reason he was still awake: he wanted to talk about how to destroy Raven.
Corinn knew Quin was tired. He was tired. But there was work to be done. There was no telling when the Almis would return or when the murder plot would be carried out. They had to be ready with some kind of plan when the murder occurred.
“I’m guessing you have some ideas?” Quin started, breaking into Corinn’s thoughts.
“A few,” Corinn admitted. “You know we have to be on our toes about this. We have no details, just a plot.”
Quin nodded and yawned again. “Yes, I know. We have to be ready for anything and everything.”
“Exactly. We have to have a plan to trap Raven and bring her down.”
“Do you want her dead this time?” Quin asked.
“Yes and no. Actually,” he admitted, “I’m not completely sure yet. I haven’t yet decided on the right course of action just yet. That’s why I needed you to wake up.”
Quin stretched and sighed. “That’s what I figured. Okay, Corinn, let’s have it all out.”
“I don’t want to kill her, Quin. I want her to be caught and locked up forever. I want her to suffer. Death would be too kind. She has changed the underground far too much in the past few years. It isn’t sitting well with the rest of us. We have to do something about it, and I’m the only one willing to do something.
“We know she’ll be killing Lord Sarlik. She has many murderers at her disposal, but we all know she wants revenge on the man who killed Aven. She will be the one to kill him, I’m sure. We have to make sure she’s caught. But should it be before, during, or after?”
Quin crossed his arms as a frown creased the flesh around his lips. While he thought, Corinn leaned back and wiped his hands over his face, scrubbing at his cheeks and letting out a moan. He was exhausted, but they didn’t know how much time they had before the planned murder.
“Does it really matter?” Quin finally asked. “The City Guard will arrest her if there’s intent. Of course, she’ll be locked up for a much longer time if the murder has already been carried out.”
A thoughtful look bloomed on Corinn’s face and he stroked his chin with the tips of his fingers. “Yes, that is true, isn’t it? I should have remembered that. I supposed catching her in the act or right after would be best.”
Quin regarded his Thief Lord from under lowered brows, a brooding look on his face. “Now, the only question left is how do we time it just right?”
“That is the problem, isn’t it? And how do we make the City Guard trust us?”
His adviser shook his head. This was a tricky situation, but it was their best opportunity to bring down Raven.
“Quin, at nightfall, bring Chrysithia to me. I believe she might be able to help us.”
Quin blinked in surprise. “The messenger? But she just joined us two months ago. And she’s only eleven. How can she help you?”
Corinn grinned like a cat with a dish full of fresh, cold milk. “That, my friend, is for you to find out. Just have her here by nightfall.”
Still with a confused look on his face, Quin nodded and, at a motion from Corinn, was dismissed.
Dusk was just fallen when Onna rushed into Raven’s bedchamber to awaken her. Raven awoke quickly and in a confused state. She never woke this early.
“Onna, what’s going on?” Raven demanded.
“Deri just rushed in to say the Almis were back. He said they looked like they were in a hurry.”
Raven frowned. “At this time of day? The whole city is still wide awake. The evening activities haven’t even started!”
Onna shrugged. “I don’t know what’s going on, Raven, but Deri said they need to see you right away. It’s something about the murder plot.”
Slowly, Raven nodded and threw the covers back off of her. Onna quickly withdrew so Raven could dress in her customary black. She dressed in her usual rapid fashion. Her clothes were easy to put on and take off, which was important when times like these happened. Occasionally she did get a client who demanded to see her at odd hours. While she could demand things from the underground, the clientele was different. They commanded the Thief Lords.
Raven strode out into her office cavern and found the Almis already sitting before her desk. Deri was hovering in the entrance to the cavern opposite where she entered from and Onna was standing behind the desk with her arms folded. Joining them, Raven smoothly took her seat and plastered on a welcoming smile, smiling through a yawn.
“Lord and Lady Almi, welcome back. I was hoping to see you again this evening. Have you come to a decision?”
Lord Almi shifted uncomfortably and shot a look at his wife. “We have, of a sort,” he admitted.
Raven nodded encouragingly, but he didn’t look like he was going to say anything else. So, she gave up on hearing anything else from him and turned instead to his wife, hoping she was a little more forthcoming.
Lady Almi took a deep breath and leaned forward slightly. “My husband and I would like to go ahead with the murder. We’ve thought about your offer and talked at great lengths about it.” She glanced over at Lord Almi, but he wasn’t meeting anyone’s gaze. “As you know, my husband has never condoned this feud. The only reason why he is here is because we don’t want to lose our daughter. I have decided I want to take you up on your offer, but my husband does not.”
Raven gave them a gentle smile. “I, of course, understand. Lady Almi, I would be honored to have your presence with me. Lord Almi, know that you are always welcome to join us.”
Lord Almi muttered something and then stood up abruptly and strode out of the cavern. Raven threw his wife a puzzled look, but she only shook her head and held up a hand to stop Onna from going after him. Raven gave a nod to Deri, who still hovered at the cavern mouth, and the boy let the man pass.
With a grin, Raven opened up a drawer and reached inside to pull out her maps of the Sarlik Manor. She spread them out so she and Lady Almi could see them. “We should begin our plans, Lady Almi. When would you like to see this through?”
Lady Almi gave her a pleased smile and said simply, “Tonight.”