The boys came out of nowhere. To this day, I have no idea who they were. They began to beat me, but a bellow stopped them. My eyes were swelling shut as I heard their screams of agony. The last thing I remember seeing is a boy some years older than me standing over me, a concerned look on his face. He said his name was Aven and that I was safe.
-writing on the cell wall
They kept to the shadows as they made their way through Needle City. It didn’t matter, really, if they did or not. The City Guard had been paid to look the other way for seven months already. They couldn’t do anything about Raven or someone in her following unless there was a gap in the payments, and Raven made sure there weren’t any. Even if a guard saw them, he had to look the other way. The one exception was if they were actually caught committing a crime, but Raven made sure her people were trained as well as possible. Her followers protested at the extended training sessions, but she wouldn’t hear of one of them being caught and sent off to prison.
Raven and Aven didn’t wear the silver raven on their shoulder. There was no need. Everyone in Needle City knew what they looked like. Their images were posted in the office of the City Guard for everyone to see. That’s what worried Raven the most.
The Guard were paid to look the other way, but the citizens were not. If one of them were caught, they would be handed over to the Guard and, at that point, the protection was gone. It didn’t matter if the Guard were all paid off; if a citizen caught one of the criminals, they were instantly thrown into prison and given a very unfair trial.
“Almost there,” Aven murmured near her ear as they slipped into the Sapphire District, sliding along the city wall.
It had taken them the better part of the night to slink around the city wall, but, considering it was mostly residences that backed onto it and those inhabitants were likely sleeping, it was safer than going through the middle of the city. There were also fewer guards near the wall. The city hadn’t been attacked in ages and really wasn’t built to withstand an attack, so there were no posts along the wall and it wasn’t even wide enough for a child to stand on it.
Raven nodded, her eyes staring straight ahead. As always, she was focused on the job, her mind running through every alternative action she could take and everything that could go wrong. She had plans for contingency plans. The map the burglars had drawn up was safely folded in a pocket, her sharp weapons carefully concealed, ready for anything. She didn’t think she would need the map since she had memorized the manor’s layout, but it never hurt to have it handy just in case. And it never, ever hurt to have a dependable blade on hand.
She pressed her back against the wall as she heard voices from one of the manors. A man was yelling and a woman was yelling back. Shadows passed across the windows, but quickly vanished. Still, Raven and Aven stood still for a moment longer. When the noise had died down and didn’t return for over a minute, they resumed their way towards the Almi Manor.
“There,” Raven whispered. “Right there.”
Before them was a three story imposing manor built of gray, white, and black stones. They were looking at it from the back, so couldn’t see what the front looked like or what much of the gardens looked like. They could see the large panes of glass that served as windows, the delicate curtains wavering with the breeze if the window was cracked open. The walls, she knew, were not smooth because of the stone. They would be handy hand and foot holds. The garden areas they could see were mainly flower beds ringed with low bushes. The lawn was manicured and fertile, a deep emerald green despite the recent end to winter. There was a single tree beside the manor’s wall, its graceful branches rising up and then falling, the leaves forming a curtain to hide the trunk. The branches did not look sturdy at all. They wouldn’t be able to use the tree to help them up onto the roof.
The roof, Raven was glad to see, was not steep. It was gently graded and had a series of three chimneys, two of which had smoke curling away from them. The days were warm, but the nights had yet to catch up.
“This way,” Raven whispered as she led the way towards the back of the manor as a cool breeze tickled the back of her neck.
They crouched low to the ground and edged along the wall towards the back of the manor. The manor wall they were moving along was mere feet from the city wall, so had no vegetation around it.
Raven nodded to Aven and he placed his hands on the manor wall, searching out the right hand and foot holds. Finding them, he lifted himself up and began the ascent. He made his way up silently, climbing like a cat. Within a couple of minutes, he was crouching on the roof. Raven waited until after he had looked around and gave her the all clear sign.
She made her own way up as skillfully and quickly as Aven had. After all, he had taught her how to scale a wall. She wasn’t as skilled as he was with all vertical climbs, but, with this kind of wall, she was excellent. She thanked Lord Almi for his family’s stupidity. Stone walls were quite advantageous for thieves like herself and Aven.
“All clear?” Raven asked quietly as she joined her friend crouching on the roof.
He returned a simple nod and pointed down the roof. She followed his finger and then looked down, careful to crane her neck just far enough to see what was there and not fall off.
There was a cracked window just a couple of feet below and to the right of her position. From the map the burglars had drawn she knew it led to a hallway near Tyala’s bedroom.
Raven nodded with approval. It would work. Sapphire District gossip said that the Almi daughter was afflicted with nigh walking, so was usually locked in her bed chamber to prevent her from hurting herself. After all, she slept fairly close to the staircase.
Quietly and stealthily, they made their way across the roof so they were standing above where the window was located. With Aven securing her by tightly grasping her knees, Raven leaned down and quietly swung the window further open so it was just wide enough for her to enter, but not enough where a particularly strong breeze would disturb anything.
Aven helped her raise back up and she turned carefully so her back was to the city wall and her eyes could scan the rest of the roof. Aven took firm hold of her hands, his eyes flashing caution. Carefully, Raven lowered a foot and searched out a firm foot hold. Finding it, she secured her foot there and then allowed Aven to slowly lower her. Her other food found the sill to the window and she balanced there as she moved her other foot into a better position to fully take her weight. Aven released one of her hands and she slowly crouched down to grab hold of the eave. Once she had a good grip, Aven released her other hand and she grabbed the eave with that one as well. Silently, she lowered herself and slid her feet into the hallway, the rest of her following a moment later.