“Well, my little bird, it looks like you’ve got yourself some excitement.”
Raven grinned up at her longtime friend. “So it seems. Now. Let’s plan out this steal.”
Together, they pulled together large and small maps of the Sapphire District and began to pore over them. They stood side by side, upper arms brushing together, as they bent their heads over the parchment.
“It won’t be a problem to get to the Almi Manor,” Raven said, spreading her hands over one of the large maps of the Sapphire District. “And getting in will be a cinch.” She shook her head. “These nobles with all of their feuds have relatively poor security. The City Guard can’t be everywhere all the time.” She flashed a grin at her friend. “Besides, they’re being paid to look the other way whenever they see me. Those Guards are really nothing more than a joke.”
Aven laughed softly. “It is a little ironic, isn’t it?”
Still smiling, Raven turned back to her maps. “What will be problematic will be finding the seed of magic. It’s the size of a small peach pit. It could be anywhere in that house.”
“Well,” Aven said slowly, “I would start with the bedroom. I would assume he wants to keep it close by just in case.”
Raven frowned. “Yes. That is a possibility. But he doesn’t really use magic. He might have it for display purposes.”
“That’s true. In that case, it could be just about anywhere.”
She sighed. “I need to do some recon of the Almi Manor. Have a team of three of my cat burglars sent over tonight. We still have five more hours of night left and I know Lord and Lady Almi are not early risers. Their children might pose a problem, but it’s unlikely they might have the seed. After all, it is illegal for anyone under the age of seventeen to have one in their possession.”
Aven nodded. “I’ll have them leave at once.”
He left at trot, leaving Raven to frown and continue to study the maps It didn’t take him long to gather the team of three and they were off immediately, glad for the work. By the time he returned to Raven, Deri had returned with the ledgers for Master Yadrow.
The three slim black books were sitting on Raven’s desk. Raven herself was rummaging in a desk drawer, probably hunting down Deri’s pay. The boy was waiting patiently by the chair. His fingers were linked behind his back and he was humming softly to himself as his eyes wandered around the cavern.
“Hey, kid,” Aven said, clapping the boy on his shoulder as he passed to stand with Raven.
“I did it, Aven,” Deri said with a blindingly bright grin. “I stole for the first time for Raven.”
She glanced up at Deri at that and gave him a smile. “Yes, you did. And you did a great job. There were no problems, right? The ledgers were exactly where I said they would be?”
“Exactly,” Deri said, nodding his head. “I had no problems at all.”
“Good. Ah, here we go.”
Triumphantly, Raven pulled out a small black pouch that she kept full of gold and silver coins. Normally, Thief Lords didn’t pay their followers for the work they did. Instead, they provided a home, food, and companionship. Raven was different. She believed her people would be more loyal if they were independent and had the choice of who to follow. The pay kept them coming back. Like regular people, they liked buying things. And she knew some were saving up for rent for an apartment in the Commons.
“Here you go, kid,” Raven said, dropping three silver coins into Deri’s outstretched hand.
He grinned and closed his fingers over them before tucking them into a pocket. “Thank you, Raven.”
She gave him an indulgent smile and leaned back in her seat. “What are your plans for the money?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know yet. All I ever dreamed about was getting out of the streets, and I have, thanks to you and Aven. I don’t know what else I might want.”
“Well, you can afford better made clothing,” she suggested.
He looked down at his clothes. The hems were tattered with strings dangling here and there and there were holes in odd places along his pants legs and around his belly. “I guess I could. Thank you.”
“Okay,” Aven said. “Off with you, kid. You need your sleep and Raven and I have work to do.”
Flashing a smile, Deri ran off to find his bed. Aven shook his head as the kid vanished into the tunnels. Raven reached over and gently squeezed her friend’s hand.
“Remind you of someone?” she asked with a grin.
He glanced over at her and returned the smile. “Yeah. He reminds me of an overeager girl named Tala.”
She frowned and removed her hand. “Aven, you know I don’t go by that name anymore.”
“I know,” he said softly. “But sometimes it’s good to remember. You came from somewhere and it shaped you. Unlike a lot of us, you actually had a family that loved you.” He crouched down beside her chair and took her hand in his. “Raven, if it weren’t for your parents’ deaths, you wouldn’t be where you are now. You’re the most powerful Thief Lord, and the first female one. If your parents had lived and you had lived as Tala, you would probably be slogging away in one of the factories as we speak. What happened to you happened for a reason and it’s made you into Raven.”
She raised a dark eyebrow. “You helped, too. Aven. If you hadn’t saved me from those boys, I would have died that night. I owe everything to you.”
“Yes, you do, and you make it up to me every day. You’re the best Thief Lord and everyone loves you. You are the kind of leader every criminal dreams of, and the leader that most of them now have the opportunity to serve under. You’re the dearest friend I’ve ever had, the one person I can no longer live without.”
She gave him a smile and reached out to gently caress his cheek. “Thank you, Aven. I needed that. Now. Back to business. How long until the burglars return?”
“It shouldn’t be for more than a couple of hours. Then, hopefully, we’ll know where that seed is.”
Raven nodded and Aven stood to pore over the maps with her once again. “I figure it’ll be easier to enter from the roof. There are less people prowling up there than along the streets and it’ll give me a chance to practice my climbing skills. I’ll drop down into the master bedroom if the seed is there. If not, I’ll go into one of the hallways and work my way down.”
Aven nodded. “I like that plan. Just remember to keep low to the roof.”
Raven cast him a look. “Tomorrow is the new moon. There will be no other light than the lanterns and the nearest one is on the side opposite where I plan to enter.”
“Ah. Smart thinking.”
“Well, someone has to be around here,” she muttered, shuffling the maps to shove them back into a drawer.
He laughed. “Okay, little thief. I’ll take care of the burglars when they get back. You can start getting ready for your outing tomorrow night.”
Raven stood, grinning widely. She stretched her arms above her head and twisted at her waist in both directions. “Yes. I think I need to limber up a bit. I’ll be in the exercise chamber. If the burglars come back with any interesting news, let me know right away.”
“Of course,” he said, giving her a look that said she was crazy for asking him to do something he always did. “Now, go, little thief.”