Edvin cleared his throat. “I believe our primary concern this night is Raven’s peace agreement.”
Two other heads nodded in agreement. Raven simply watched him, her hands calmly folded in her lap, her face impassive.
“I believe,” she said, “that is what has been causing the problems between us lately.”
“When the original Thief Lords created the council,” Deryk said, “it was to ensure we wouldn’t off each other and create a single Thief Lord who would become a tyrant.”
“Very true,” Corinn murmured.
“I believe my peace agreement takes care of that very nicely,” Raven said almost off-handedly.
Edvin nodded. “It does. As Thief Lords, we naturally want to take out our competition, but we know the perils and prices for that.”
Yes, they did. They remembered the chaos Teryk’s death had thrown them into. Every other Thief Lord had screamed for blood, but the girl known as Tala had vanished into the night. She hadn’t returned until after the dust had settled and they had settled back into a comfortable routine, one Thief Lord down because they hadn’t been able to pick someone to take Teryk’s place. No one had been strong enough, smart enough, or daring enough to be labeled a Thief Lord.
They remembered when Raven had asserted herself as a Thief Lord, her following larger than Corinn’s and Edvin’s, who did not, by far, have some of the smaller followings. Two of the other Thief Lords had opposed her and thought that a mere girl couldn’t stand up to them. They had learned soon enough how wrong they were and the council was down two more Thief Lords.
The peace agreement had come out of that unfortunate mishap, as Raven referred to it as, and it had kept the peace so far. They wouldn’t kill each other. At least, not attempt any more than usual. And none of them could actually be killed without having all the other Thief Lords fall on them. Of course, Raven knew her life was in constant danger despite the agreement. The other three would do anything to see her dead.
“I,” Edvin said, “for one, have resigned the agreement as it stands. I don’t wish to be killed any more than I wish to kill any of you. We are only four when we were once seven. That is enough for me to want to preserve our ranks.”
Deryk nodded. “I agree. I, too, have signed the agreement.”
All eyes turned to Corinn. Of the three, he was the most eager to be well-rid of Raven. Though eager to be rid of the young female Thief Lord, Deryk and Edvin had been Lords longer than Corinn and knew they needed every one of them to keep order in the underground. It kept them in check and kept any one following from growing too large and too powerful. It also helped to spread the numerous followers out so they could be kept under watchful eyes. But Corinn viewed Raven as a thorn in his side, an upstart who had stolen what he viewed as his chance to be the most powerful Thief Lord. He had, after all, been Teryk’s favorite until Raven had come along.
Corinn crossed his arms. “I am not convinced. We never needed an agreement before. Why do we need one now? What has changed? We are still a council of Thief Lords. We still rule the underground. We still try to kill each other and never succeed.”
“If my man hadn’t overheard your plan,” Raven said softly, dangerously, “you would very likely have succeeded at killing me. Everyone knows I do not carry weapons into the bath houses. That is forbidden. This agreement protects my life. It protects yours as well, especially from my following. I assure you many of my people despise one or more of you and would jump at the chance to attempt to take your life. If I could do it, any of them could. This agreement isn’t just for us. It’s for our people as well. They cannot kill any one of us any more than we can kill each other’s followers.”
Deryk nodded. “That is true. And we know our followers are zealous. At a word, they would kill for us, especially another Thief Lord.” His eyes turned to Raven and a flicker of a smile touched one side of his mouth. “Everyone wants to be another Raven.”
“What say you?” Edvin asked of Corinn. “It protects all of us.”
The man only pursed his lips.
Raven looked at Deryk and Edvin. “The agreement is null and void if Corinn does not sign. All of our lives and the lives of our followers would be in danger from this point forward.”
That put a thoughtful look on Corinn’s face. Aven didn’t like it and he wished more than anything that the other three Thief Lords would force a pen into his hand and make him sign the agreement.
“Corinn,” Deryk said, his voice soft, a hint of danger laced through. “It is in your best interest, as well as the rest of ours, to sign it.”
Corinn folded his arms. “I’ll take my chances. I won’t sign.” He turned to his adviser. “Quin, we leave.”
His adviser only nodded. Quin rose and nodded to the other advisers as he preceded his Thief Lord down the stairs. Corinn left the other Lords and advisers staring at each other, each knowing the peace agreement was now null and void and all of them and their followings were in danger from each other.