The Market District was full of easy pickings. Aven taught me who to target and how to steal. He had to bail me out a couple of times, though. But, one day, he said I was a natural and he was going to take me to Teryk, his thief Lord. It was the most exciting day of my life.
-writing on the cell wall
Raven had her chin resting in the palm of one hand as she went over city reports at her desk. Night had fallen and now it was time for the serious work. Unfortunately, at that moment, work consisted of reports. Tedious, but necessary, she still wished it would vanish.
Tonight it was a lot of the same as last night: what routes the guards were taking, which family was feuding with which family, who had which seed of magic and jewel setting since those tended to be the most sought after items, and who was betting what on which family would be going to Raven next.
She yawned and didn’t bother covering her mouth. It was just her and Aven, anyways, and he was usually more crudely behaved than she was. After all, he had been abandoned as an infant. That orphanage, no matter its name as the Angel House, wasn’t very good at bringing up kids. Oh, sure, some of them made out okay, but most were turned out into the streets when they turned sixteen. The system didn’t really care much for them. And that was one reason why some of the followings, particularly her own, were so strong and numbered. They took in all of the children that were turned out, as well as the children they managed to grab before they entered the orphanage.
The clearing of a throat grabbed her attention and she eagerly looked up from the papers. She needed some excitement. She craved it. She hoped the throat-clearer had something interesting for her.
Stepho was standing at the entrance to the cavern. He was a new kid, about twelve years old, and had just joined her two months before. He spent most of his time being trained in various criminal acts, but spent two nights a week as her evening attendant.
“Um, my Lady Raven,” he said awkwardly, clearing his throat again.
“Yes, Stepho?” she asked, her voice calm and patient. He was a nervous kid who had seen his parents killed just six months before. Everyone had been warned to tread carefully around him. Raven was no exception; she would be as patient with him as he needed her to be.
“There’s a lady waiting to see you. A Lady Almi.”
Raven raised her eyebrows and looked up to trade glances with Aven. So, the Lady Almi had come to seek vengeance against Lord Sarlik. Let the feuding begin.
“Show her in,” Raven said, barely smothering a pleased smile.
Stepho nodded and jumped away from the entrance. His footsteps could be heard echoing in the tunnels. Raven shook her head. No, the boy would not make a good thief. She would find a place for him eventually.
“So,” Aven said sotto voce, “the Lady Almi has come. This will be interesting.”
Raven gave him a sly smile. Yes, it would be interesting. Usually, it was Lord Sarlik who came to her. The Almis tended to use the other Thief Lords, but had come to her once before, the last bit of the feud before the heavy winter came and stopped just about everything. Lady Almi had been very pleased with Raven’s work, Raven remembered, and it was only time before she came back. It would be fun to steal from both families for each other.
“Watch yourself,” Aven warned. “This is new territory for us.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m always cautious.”
Lady Almi entered the chamber, pushing back the black hood to her cape. Her dark curls tumbled out around her face as she took a look around before approaching the desk.
“Welcome, Lady Almi,” Raven said, gesturing for the chair. “Please have a seat and we’ll get down to business.”
Gracefully, the lady settled herself into the seat and settled her gloved hands in her lap. She was every inch a lady. Regal and poised, she looked only slightly uncomfortable to be sitting before one of the infamous Thief Lords. But if she wanted something illegal done, this was what she had to do.
“I was very pleased with your work last time,” the lady began, her eyes shifting from Raven to Aven as she spoke. “I have need of your services again.”
“Of course, Lady Almi,” Raven said smoothly, professionally. “What can we do for you?”
“Lord Sarlik has stolen my husband’s seed of magic. I seek revenge. I want his daughter’s jewel setting. It is quite beautiful. It’s a shame the girl never uses magic. So, I want it. The girl clearly has no use for it.”
“And what does this jewel setting look like? I need to know what it looks like if I am to make sure I steal the right one.”
Lady Almi hesitated. “I’ve only seen the thing once. I believe it’s a necklace. A golden chain. It has a ruby droplet hanging from it and a space in the drop for the seed. There’s gold filigree all around the drop and its base is set in a bed of emerald leaves spotted with diamonds.”
Raven nodded, making no comment on the lady’s detailed description of something she reportedly only saw once. “It does sound beautiful. I suppose it’s in the girl’s bedroom?”
“Most likely,” Lady Almi replied, appearing a little more at ease as she settled into the chair.
“All right, then, Lady Almi, I will take the job. You know my price?”
The woman hesitated again, a shoulder twitching slightly. Raven inwardly sighed. For a lady who strode in so confidently, she didn’t seem so sure of herself now.
“A thousand in gold coins to the City Guard,” Raven gently reminded her. “That will provide protection for my following and me for the next three weeks. In addition, I request five gold coins now and five when the job is done.”
Lady Almi pursed her lips, but apparently was prepared. She reached into an interior pocket in her cloak and pulled out a handful of coins. Counting them out, she placed them one by one on Raven’s desk. Satisfied, Raven nodded and swept them up, dumping them into a drawer.
“I’ll have the jewel setting ready for you in two days’ time. You may see me then, along with the rest of my pay. And make sure the City Guard is paid before you come to me.”
Lady Almi nodded, her lips still pursed. “Thank you, Raven. Good night.”
Raven only nodded to her as she rose and swept out of the cavern. Aven looked down at her and shook his head. She shrugged. Some of the nobility were more comfortable with her than others. She didn’t blame them.
“Well, then,” Raven said, opening up another drawer. She pulled out the maps of the Sapphire District and spread them out over her desk. “I guess it’s back to Sarlik Manor.”
“Guess so,” Aven murmured. “I hope this doesn’t get too messy, with you working for both families.”
Raven looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. “It was bound to happen, Aven. There are only four Thief Lords and numerous feuds. The odds that we’ll end up working with both families are quite high.”
He shrugged. “I suppose. So, should I send the burglars in to survey the manor?”
“May as well,” Raven said. “I have old floor plans, but people have a habit of changing things every so often. I don’t want to take the risk that my maps are out of date.”
Aven nodded. “I’ll get them sent off, then.”
Absently, Raven nodded to give her consent, her eyes focused on her maps. Aven quietly left the cavern on his silent feet, leaving the Thief Lord deep in contemplation of the maps. Her mind, though, was very far from the Sapphire District.
The Thief Lord council meeting was tomorrow night. It was a midnight meeting and would likely last well into the early hours. They always did. Raven knew she could send someone else to do this job, but she wanted to do it herself. Last night’s job had been such a rush. She wasn’t willing to relinquish those feelings yet. The job would have to wait until the following night. There was no helping it. She may be a thief, but she was a busy girl, too.
Caidy drew back the music room’s curtains for the tenth time that night. She was making her father nervous, but he knew to trust her bad feelings. They were usually right.
Sarlik’s fingers stilled on the piano’s keys in the middle of the aria his daughter had been singing. He watched her frown and le the curtains fall from her fingers. Slowly, she turned from the curtain and stared at the piano with worried eyes.
“Caidy,” Sarlik said, “if something’s going to happen, we’ll be home for it. Don’t worry so much.”
“Papa, I have a really bad feeling.”
He held out a hand to her and she obediently went to him. She slid onto the piano bench beside him and rested her head on his shoulder. He placed his hands back on the piano keys and began to pick out a lullaby her mother used to sing. Caidy hummed along for a few bars and then stopped.
“Are you sure we’ll be okay?” she asked quietly.
“We’re never really safe,” he said. “You know that.”
“Yes, Papa, but it still worries me. Winter is over and the Almis could be up to anything. Papa, why can’t we just end this feud? I don’t like it. We’re the only ones left in this family because of it.”
He lifted his left hand from the piano, but his right hand kept playing out the melody. He gently stroked her hair with his free hand. “This feud is all that we’ve ever really known. It’s too late to back out and there’s no end in sight. Besides, feuds are the life blood of Needle City.”
Caidy frowned and shook her head, but didn’t say anything. She had that worried look on her face, the one that told him she didn’t really believe what he was saying. She wasn’t happy with what was going on, but there was really only so much he could do about it. He had already reignited the feud by hiring Raven. Now all they could do was wait for the retaliation. That was probably the bad feeling Caidy had.
“It’s late, my dear,” he said softly as the clock chimed the one o’clock hour. “We should go up to bed”
“I’m not sleepy,” she said, the worry still lacing her voice.
“Well, your Papa is sleepy.”
With that, he ended the melody and closed the piano, pulling the cover down to protect the keys and keep them dust free. Caidy lifted her head from his shoulder and he rose, leaving her to stare at the piano cover.
“Come, Caidy,” he gently demanded. “It’s time for bed.”
She still had that troubled look on her face as she rose and walked towards him. “Papa, I don’t want either of us to be alone tonight. Will you stay in my chambers for the night?”
He frowned at her, wondering why she had suddenly changed back into being a child. “No, Caidy. You are sixteen years old. It’s time for you to do things on your own. I can’t keep coddling you. Once I’m gone, you will inherit this feud. You will have to start dealing with it sooner or later. And the sooner the better. I’m not getting any younger.”
She frowned up at him, effectively pairing it with a glare in her eyes. Her father had never denied her anything before. Now he was just starting to sound mean.
“Caidy,” he said, more gently. “It’s late. Everything will be fine. You’ve had bad feelings before and things have turned out okay.”
Doubt flared in her eyes. “Can I at least stay in your bedchambers? To protect you and make sure you’re okay?”
He lifted an eyebrow.
“You did say you’re getting old,” she pointed out. “I want to be there just in case something bad happens to you in your sleep.”
He scratched his chin, deep in thought. “Huh. I guess I can’t really argue with your logic.”
“No, Papa,” she said, trying to hide a grin. She knew as well as he did that she had him there.
“All right, then, child. You can sleep on the sofa. Satisfied?”
She grinned now, her whole face lighting up. She felt as though she had won. “Yes, Papa. That’s much better.”
Shaking his head, he followed his daughter out of the music room, snuffing out the lights that lit up the room as he went. An hour later, they were both fast asleep and never even heard the cat burglars that had snuck into their manor.
Someone was tapping her head and it was starting to annoy her. It was an incessant tapping, a tapping that never changed in rhythm or strength. It was irritating how even the beat was. But it was effective if it was meant to wake her up.
Raven growled as she came awake, lifting her head from the maps that were spread out over her desk. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she had been so tired.
Aven was perched on the edge of her desk beside her. He was the one who was tapping the top of her head. He raised an eyebrow as she came awake and reached out with her teeth to try to bite his finger. He was, however, faster than a sleepy Raven.
“What was all that tapping for?” she groused. “I was sleeping.”
“So you were,” he said evenly. “For a solid hour.”
“Well, you weren’t the one who was awake for two hours during the day. While I bathed, you slept. That’s not really fair.”
He shrugged. “You’re the one who decided to bathe during the morning when the other Thief Lords would be asleep.”
She muttered under her breath as she reorganized her maps and got a grip on her emotions. Taking a few deep breaths, she calmed herself down and settled her hands on top of her desk.
“All right, Aven, what did you wake me up for?”
“The cat burglars are back.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” she demanded, coming fully awake. “Send them in already.”
Again with that lifted eyebrow. He could really be annoying sometimes. But at least the man jumped off of the desk and left to fetch the burglars. While she waited, she ran her fingers through her short hair. It would need to be cut soon again. It was amazing how fast hair grew. She liked to keep it short, so monthly trims were a necessity. Actually, Aven could do with a good clipping, too.
She didn’t have to wait too long for the burglars and Aven to return. The burglars lined up before her in front of the desk and Aven took his customary place beside her.
“Well?” Raven asked.
“The lord and mistress were asleep,” one of the burglars, a fifteen-year-old girl, said. “We had no trouble getting in or out.”
“Excellent, Adry. What else?”
The other burglars seemed to be following the girl, so she went on. If no one else wanted to talk, she would gladly take the credit. After all, she was a female cat burglar. She was a rare breed in Needle City. Raven had come close to being one, but she never managed to be as light on her feet was Aven was.
“Interestingly, the little Lady Caidy was sleeping in her father’s sitting room. Lord Sarlik was fast asleep in his bed. We had no trouble poking through her room for the jewel setting.”
“Did you find it?”
Adry shook her head. “No, Thief Lord. She has a number of jewel boxes. It could be in any one of them. It could also be somewhere else.”
“Unlikely,” Raven said. “That jewel setting was her mother’s. Lady Elysia was a sorceress of some renown. I understand it was her childhood jewel setting. She had learned from her mother and then from a school the magicians founded. She was quite sought out for her potions. Lady Elysia gave Caidy the jewel setting when she died. It was Caidy’s inheritance from her mother. I highly doubt it would be anywhere but in the girl’s bedchamber.” She waved her hand. “But don’t worry about it. I will find it and steal it. All I need now from you is a map of the manor.”
Adry bowed her head. “Of course, Raven. We will have it ready for you by the end of the night.”
Raven nodded and dismissed them. “Good work, Adry. The three of you see Aven later about your pay.”
The burglars bowed their heads in thanks and left as quietly as they had come in.
Raven looked up at Aven to get a sense for what he thought. “It’s interesting that a daughter should sleep in her father’s room.”
“Very,” he said slowly. “I wonder if she’ll do the same in two nights’ time.”
“That would definitely make things easier,” Raven remarked. “But the odds of that are slim.”
Aven nodded in agreement. “Still, that would make this an easy job.”
Raven chuckled and shuffled her papers to tease out the reports she was still supposed to be looking over.