Raven, Chapter 2-d

It irked him to have to leave his daughter home alone, but he had business to attend to. Since seeing the Almis that morning, he’d been all but obsessed with them. He had to do something. And Raven was just the person he needed. And that meant he had to slip over to the slums in the middle of the night to meet with her.

Oh, everyone in the Sapphire District knew that if you wanted something done, you had to go to one of the Thief Lords in the slums. But no one liked to talk about it or even see it. So, everyone slipped out in the middle of the night to go to the slums. It was one thing he would love to protect Caidy from, but she was his only child. She had to inherit the feud. One day he would be forced to bring her along and introduce her to the useful, but unsavory underground of Needle City.

He pulled the hood of his cloak further down to better hide his face. His dark brown cape was wrapped loosely around his body and his soft soled boots whispered against the stones of Esplanade.

Lanterns hung from iron poles every few feet down the wide avenue, but no one was about except the City Guard. They tipped their hats to him as he revealed just enough of his face for them to recognize him every time he saw a pair. He tried to keep to the shadows, but it was hard with so many lanterns lighting up spheres of space.

He could have readied his carriage or hired one, but it was late at night and the sound would draw listening ears and watchful eyes. If he wanted a ride to the slums, he would have to wake one of the sleepy midnight chaises from the Town Square. That would be a little more anonymous. The midnight drivers were the better secret keepers, especially since so much happened at night that could not be spoken about in the light of day.

Sarlik reached the Town Square without any problems and with just a handful of run-ins with the City Guard. He quickly made his way to the Court House, where the midnight drivers tended to gather. With his hood pulled down low over his face, he hailed one of them and climbed into the chaise.

“Where to, sir?” the sleepy driver asked, preparing his brown mare for the ride.

“Sector Promenade at Sewer Way,” Sarlik said, handing over the fare. “And I’ll want you to wait for me. I’ll pay double when I return.”

The man nodded and clucked at his horse. “Very well, my good man. We’ll be there shortly.”

Sarlik leaned back and relaxed as he let the driver do the work. They went through the middle of the Town Square and around the Needle that stood in the middle. It was really some kind of very tall and slender sculpture. It was made of a glossy, obsidian material that rose from a relatively wide base into a very pointed top. No one really knew who had made it, or even how long it had been there. Oddly enough, there was absolutely nothing written about it, not even in modern times.

The Needle had become so enmeshed in city life that Sarlik didn’t even bother to admire it anymore. They rolled out of the Town Square and down the cobblestone Skywalk Promenade dividing the Commons District and the Market District. It was a little narrower than the Esplanade, but had the lanterns every few feet, just as on all the other major roadways.

The chaise’s wheels clattered over the cobblestone, but the Market District was empty and the apartments of the Commons were dark. Not that anyone would recognize him, anyways. Still, it made him feel better that he didn’t see anyone peeking out at him.

They reached the end of the Skywalk Promenade, which ended at the towering walls of Needle City, and made a sharp turn onto Sector Promenade. It wasn’t long before the chaise was stopping at the narrow dirt road that was Sewer Way.

“Here we are, my good man,” the midnight driver said, suppressing a yawn. “I’ll wait for ye here. Take your time.”

Sarlik nodded to the man and stepped down onto the dirt road. He made a face, but, if he wanted to see Raven, this was how it had to be.

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