The Thief Lords couldn’t believe I would dare to kill two of their own. They were slow to accept me as one of them. I was only sixteen when I tried to establish myself. They only saw me as a girl trying to be one of them. But after I killed two of their number, they were a little more afraid. Still, it took two years to become a recognized Thief Lord.
-writing on the cell wall
It was starting to become easier to work with Onna as her adviser, but she missed Aven dearly. Her cat burglars had managed to steal his body from the city infirmary, where all the dead were kept before burial. They’d had a small service for him at sundown, right near the city wall in the slums. It made it easier to go on without him, knowing his body was still nearby and that she hadn’t completely abandoned him.
Still, she continued to hope she would turn around and see him.
Deri cleared his throat from the entrance to the cavern. Instead of nervously shifting from foot to foot, he now stood straight and tall, confident and with bright eyes. Ever since he had been promoted to cat burglar, he had continued to act as a guard and had become ever more confident in Raven’s presence.
“Raven, Lord Almi is here to see you,” he announced.
Raven narrowed her eyes slightly. It was that feud that had gotten Aven killed. Lady Almi’s job had taken Aven’s life. Who would Lord Almi’s job steal from her?
“Show him in,” she said, her voice stiff and formal.
The boy gave an eager nod and vanished from her sight. She was still pondering what Lord Almi could possibly want from her when Deri returned with the man in tow.
Raven had never met the Lord before. She had heard that he preferred to stay as far away from the Almi-Sarlik feud as he could. Yet, here he was now, sitting before her. He looked uncomfortable and nervous, but they all were. They were, after all, in the middle of a nest of criminals.
She forced a smile, as calming a smile as she could muster, and folded her hands on top of her desk. “What can I do for you, Lord Almi?”
His eyes shifted to her face and then instantly moved away. His cheeks flushed and he cleared his throat. He was nervous; there was no way of hiding it.
“Ordinarily,” he started, then coughed and began again, “Ordinarily, I would never come to you or any other Thief Lord. You may have heard from my wife, Lady Nyana Almi, that I prefer to stay as far away from the feud as I possibly can. My daughter, Tyala, has chosen to forsake the feud as well. However, she was caught today trying to run away with Lord Sarlik’s daughter, Caidy. This threw my wife and me into fits. Certainly, I understand her desire to stay out of this mess, but I don’t wish for her to run.
“I know that what I will ask you to do will send me to the deepest bowels of the earth upon my death, but I love my family and I want to make my wife happy and keep my daughter from running away. The only solution I have is to turn the two girls, my daughter and Caidy, against each other. And,” he said before hesitating and clearing his throat.
“And?” Raven gently prompted, wondering at just what this man was getting at.
“And I know Lord Sarlik has to die,” Lord Almi said in a rush.
Raven blinked in surprise and leaned back in her chair. She glanced over and traded a look with Onna, hoping the girl knew what she was thinking, just as Aven would.
Lord Almi was hiring her to murder the one man she also wanted dead. What were the odds of this? She would not only have a great opportunity to get rid of Lord Sarlik, but she would also be paid for it.
A gleam came to Raven’s eye and Lord Almi was instantly wary of her.
“Lord Almi,” Raven said calmly, “I believe I can help you. But, first, I would like to meet with you and your wife.”
He looked suspiciously at her and narrowed his eyes. “This should be an easy hire, Thief Lord. Why do you need to meet with both of us?”
“My good man, Lord Sarlik and I have a history of sorts, one in which you and your family play a part. I, too, have a score to settle with your rival and I believe you and your wife can help me just as I can help you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will, Lord Almi. Just return with your wife as soon as you can and then we can get down to business. I will give you two nights to return. If you do not, I will assume you no longer require my services.”
Raven sat back and laced her hands over her stomach. She gave him a soft smile and nodded to Onna to indicate she should show the man out. Her adviser got the message and hurried around the desk to escort Lord Almi from the caverns.