Until my parents died, I had no notion of living on the streets. It was terrifying. I was afraid most days and nights. I stole what little I could just to get by. I was cold and hungry most of the time.
-the writing on the cell wall
It was the middle of the night, but Raven and Aven hardly ever slept during this time of night. This was when the nobility came out of their lofty Sapphire District to hire her. It wouldn’t do if she were sleeping. If they didn’t get any sleep, why should she? These were the jobs that mattered. These were the jobs that paid. She had to stay awake for them. Which meant those that made their way to her during the daylight hours got a sleepy Raven reclining on cushions. The nighttime employers got a wide awake Raven who was already dressed in her tight black clothes and boots who sat at her wide desk, going over papers with Aven and actually doing work.
That night, as they waited to see if any of the nobility would finally start coming to her, they were also going over Deri’s job. The boy was due to return any moment now with Master Yadrow’s spoils and the merchant himself would be back sometime during the day to finish paying Raven and to pick up the ledger.
Myria interrupted them by clearing her throat. She was on duty tonight to greet anyone who was coming to see Raven.
Raven and Aven looked up from the papers and saw the young woman waiting patiently at the entrance to Raven’s audience chamber. Aven nodded to Myria and then retreated towards the pile of cushions. He settled himself down on them and leaned back, propped up on one elbow. He looked relaxed, but his eyes were sharp and vigilant. He wouldn’t let anyone hurt Raven.
“Bring them in, Myria,” Raven said quietly as she gathered up her papers into neat piles, only briefly raising her eyes to the young woman as she spoke.
Myria disappeared and, a moment later, a tall figure in a dark brown cloak entered. Raven smiled and held out a hand towards the plain wooden chair placed on the other side of her desk.
“Lord Sarlik,” she greeted, recognizing the man as he pulled up his hood from his head of graying hair. “It’s lovely to see you again. Please have a seat and we can get down to business.”
Lord Sarlik had come to her before, both as a youth and a man. They were well acquainted and Raven knew the Sarlik-Almi, formerly Sarlik-Galton, feud quite well. The families had gone to other Thief Lords from time to time, but both purported to be most pleased with Raven’s work, especially since it was the Thief Lord herself doing the work rather than one of the followers. They liked the skill and professionalism Raven had.
Despite their relationship, though, Lord Sarlik was, understandably, still cautious around her. His gaze flickered over to Aven for a brief second. The other man only gave him the slightest of nods, barely imperceptible, but there nonetheless. It had been customary between the two men for the past two years. After a moment’s hesitation, Lord Sarlik finally took the seat Raven gestured to and faced her.
“What can I do for you this time, Lord Sarlik?”
He leaned forward, allowing the cloak to open up now that he wasn’t holding onto the folds on the inside to keep it closed. “I need you to steal something for me.”
Raven nodded, happy to be returning to the Sapphire District for a job, but a little disappointed it was to steal something. She had more fun creating contraptions to catch people unawares, but stealing was right up her alley and she was one of the best at it.
“Of course, Lord Sarlik. Tell me a little more.”
“You are familiar with the seeds of magic, yes?” he asked.
Raven nodded. “Certainly. The magicians produce only a few a year. I hear the magic quality is reducing with every seed they form, but that’s to be expected. The reserve is drying up.”
“Yes, that is true,” Sarlik said. “This new batch is quite weakened. Lord Almi has one of the last good seeds in his possession. He doesn’t use magic much, so I don’t know why he bothers to have one on hand. It’ll just sit there and the magic will slowly dissipate. What a waste.” He sniffed, and then instantly regretted it when he smelled a combination of strange food scents and sewage. He coughed and brought out a scented handkerchief to mask the odor, using it to gently pat around his lips and nose.
“Do you know where this seed is located?” Raven asked, ever focused on the job and not caring what her clients felt or smelled as they sat before her. If they wanted to hire her, they had to deal with everything she had.
“No. I only know it’s somewhere in his manor.”
Raven grinned. “This will be a fun one. I will have your seed of magic for you in two days’ time.”
“So soon?” he asked with surprise.
“I’ve been waiting for something more entertaining that assassination attempts,” she replied drily. “This job is perfect. You may pay half now and half when you return to collect your seed.”
“Ah,” he interrupted. “Would it be too much trouble for you to leave it at my manor?”
Surprise flickered in her eyes. No one had ever asked her for that before. But it would give her a great opportunity to break into two homes.
“You could just leave it on the doorstep,” he added quickly. “I’ll even pay more for the delivery. I know you prefer to have people pick things up from you, but I really hate to leave my daughter by herself.”
“No, no, that would be fine, Lord Sarlik. Certainly, I can make the delivery for you. Half now, please.”
She held out a hand and he reached over to drop three gold coins into her palm. Her fingers instantly wrapped around them and her hand vanished into her pockets before he could even pull back his hand.
Raven smiled and stood. “Lovely doing business with you, Lord Sarlik. Until I see the rest of my pay waiting outside of your door, I won’t drop off the seed.”
Sarlik nodded and stood. “I understand. Thank you, Raven.”
She smiled and bowed her head to him. Myria materialized behind him, walking on quiet feet, and escorted him from the room. As soon as they had departed, Aven rejoined Raven and perched on her desk as she once again settled herself in her padded chair.