Aven crouched on top of the roof of Sarlik Manor. Raven was making her way through the manor, searching for the jewel setting. The night was dark, a sliver of moon being the only light in the sky. But he still felt exposed. There was nowhere to hide on the roof, not even a chimney.
They were ill prepared for this steal. They had no real plan and no tools. If Raven got into trouble, there was no way he would be able to help her. And with the other Thief Lords potentially on the prowl for each other’s blood, the night was even more dangerous.
Aven fervently wished she hadn’t decided to go ahead with the steal tonight. This night was more dangerous than any other. There was the usual fear that the City Guard might catch them or the home’s master or mistress might awaken. But now there was the additional danger of the other Thief Lords and their followings.
If they weren’t careful, Raven could still end up losing her life this night. But Aven would see to it that that didn’t happen.
He scanned the ground, his eyes searching carefully for any unnatural movement. Early on, in Teryk’s following, he had been used as a scout. That’s what he had been trained for as a young boy before he turned towards being a cat burglar. He had the sharpest eyes in the following and he liked to think that he still did. Nothing had ever gotten past him. And now it was even more imperative that he have sharp eyes. Raven’s life depended on it.
A soft whistle pierced the air towards his right. He crept over to the edge of the roof and saw Raven crouched near a flowering bush in the gardens. She made a slight hand movement and he gave a nod to indicate he understood.
His feet silent, he ghosted over the roof towards the tree they had climbed up and now just as gracefully climbed down. Slinking low to the ground, he made his way towards his mistress, his eyes trained on her.
A twig snapped behind him and he instantly stilled. Raven’s eyes had gone wide and a hand moved to her mouth. They had been caught.
“Stop, thief!” Lord Sarlik’s voice rang out loud and clear in the night air.
“Hide,” Aven whispered to Raven as footsteps headed in his direction.
Raven, fear etched in her face, didn’t move. She only shook her head.
“Tala, please,” he mouthed, his eyes imploring her to follow his command for once in her life. He knew he was either going to die or be imprisoned. That was fine with him. He was protecting Raven. He would protect her until his dying breath.
For once in her life, Raven listened to him and shrank into the bushes. Lord Sarlik was so focused on Aven that he didn’t even notice the bush’s movement. Raven was able to hide herself quickly and effectively, but kept her eyes trained on Aven.
Aven had straightened and turned around to face Sarlik. The lord had a long knife clutched in a hand. So, it would be death tonight.
“Give me back what you have taken,” Lord Sarlik demanded, one hand outstretched.
Aven spread his hands wide. “I have nothing of yours, sir.”
Lord Sarlik’s eyes narrowed. “Someone was in my home and you are the only one I see. Return what you have taken.”
“I have nothing of yours, sir,” Aven repeated, his voice calm, his body still.
Raven couldn’t help but quiver in the bushes. She wanted nothing more than to go out and rescue her beloved friend and adviser. But they had planned for this, and they were following that plan. Aven’s use of her birth name was their key word. If he used it, she would hide and he would take the fall. She had prayed it would never come to that, but, if it was imprisonment, they had a plan for that, too.
“Thief!” Lord Sarlik roared.
With that, he launched himself at Aven and, before the thief could move, thrust the knife through Aven’s heart. Raven’s hand flew to her mouth to hold in the choked cry that was on the tip of her tongue. Aven’s body stiffened and then fell as Lord Sarlik yanked the blade from the man’s chest. Aven fell so he could cast his dying gaze on Raven’s hiding spot.
All they could do was stare at each other, each hoping the other knew how much they loved them, as Aven bleed to death and his heart stilled. He mouthed his love to her as his eyes glazed over and he breathed his last.