Raven, Chapter 12-b

A smile spread across Corinn’s face as his lookout reported what he had seen. This was just the icing on the cake after the news of Aven’s death. He wasn’t completely sure of what it all meant, but it did point to an unstable Raven. She was devastated, as the boy was telling him. It had been days and she was still in deep mourning.

Raven wouldn’t be thinking clearly. She could be impulsive and have her guard down. Of course, she could be reacting differently and be even sharper than usual. She could make many mistakes, or work flawlessly. The woman had never before lost a member of her following to another’s hands. Of course, Aven had had to execute a handful for disloyalty, but that had been on her orders.

No, Raven had never lost anyone that close to her before. And now to lose her closest friend and adviser? It was also rumored that the man had been Raven’s lover. There was no evidence of that, but he didn’t doubt it was true. They were too close to not be lovers.

He didn’t know how Raven operated while grieving, but he was sure it would put him at an advantage. Her mindset would be different and it might be easier to get at her and stab a knife through her own heart.

He smiled at that thought. Ever since the girl had proclaimed herself a Thief Lord he had been itching to get rid of her. But she was tough and well protected. No one got to her unless they were allowed, and no Thief Lord had ever gotten close to her with so much as a sharpened stick.

“My Lord?” the boy asked uncertainly as Corinn’s smile grew and his eyes sparked with a light he hadn’t seen before.

“Good job, boy,” was Corinn’s only reply.

He pulled out a silver coin and flipped it to his lookout. The boy turned it over with awe, forgetting the odd look on his Thief Lord’s face. Never before had he ever been paid for any of his work. He couldn’t believe he actually held real money in his hands.

“Good work, kid,” Corinn repeated when they boy hadn’t moved. He turned away from the boy and dismissed him with a wave, clearly indicating he was done with the kid.

Only the sound of footsteps told him the boy had left. Like Raven and Deryk, he was based underground. His network wasn’t as extensive as Raven’s, but it was mostly because his following was smaller than hers, so they required fewer caverns and less space.

Quin emerged from the shadows he usually hid in. He was a silent one, and that’s what Corinn liked about him. He understood all of his orders and only offered his advice when Corinn demanded it. The man followed his words to a T. That had been a problem with his last adviser. Pyner had been too focused on the “advising” part of being his adviser.

“What do you think?” Corinn asked, not looking at his adviser. “Do you think now would be the time to go after her, attack her, bring her down?”

“The woman is unstable,” Quin said, his voice soft and silky, not too different from Corinn’s own oily voice. “She could be capable of anything.”

Corinn nodded. “Yes. That is true. I thought the same.”

“Would you like my advice?” Quin asked.

Corinn turned to him and blinked. “Yes. I would, actually. What would you do?”

“I would survey her a little longer, perhaps another day, but no longer than that. We cannot give her too much time to recover. If we are to strike, now would be the time. Of course, we must be careful, so we must have a closer eye on her.”

The Thief Lord nodded and folded his hands over his lean stomach. “I thought that, too. We can’t wait too long, but we do need more information. Quin, it’s been far too long since you last served as a shadow.”

A smile spread across Quin’s face. “I would be happy to follow the woman.”

Corinn nodded. “Good. Keep watch for her and follow her closely whenever she exits her caverns.”

Quin bowed to his master and murmured, “As my Thief Lord wishes.”

And that’s exactly what Corinn loved so much about the man.

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Raven, Chapter 11-c

As soon as she entered the Market District, her movements changed. Her bold stride through the slums, her own territory, became a slink as she moved from shadow to shadow to hide from the City Guard.

Instead of taking the direct route through the Town Square, she instead crossed Skywalk Promenade, which divided the Market District from The Commons. Here, three, four, and five story apartment buildings rose on either side of the narrow streets. These, as in all the other districts excepting the slums and Factory District, were cobbled with light brown, white, black, and gray stones and smoothed over so wheels had a flatter surface to travel over. It also ensured fewer wheels were lost or broken.

The apartment buildings were dark. It was, after all, well after midnight. There shouldn’t be anyone awake to watch a shadow creep along the walls and skirting around Arel Gardens. A jolt went through her heart as she caught sight of the vines winding their way around the cloister and she quickly averted her gaze. She didn’t think she would be able to return there any time soon. It reminded her too strongly of Aven and the dawn they had spent together. Never again would they be able to watch the dawn together, explore the city, or swing up onto a cloister covered with vines. She clenched her teeth together and quietly ran away from the Gardens.

She continued her way around the city, calming her mind and her heart as she did so. She crossed the Needle Promenade, which divided The Commons from the Emerald District, where the upper class resided. These people were very wealthy, some even more so than the nobility, but they could never live in the Sapphire District; only those of noble blood could, unless they were the Parliament President.

The residences in the Emerald District were grand, but not as grand as those in the Sapphire District. Many of the homes, especially those covering extensive ground, had fine gardens, colorful and sweet smelling, an echo of the Sapphire District. These people would do anything to emulate the nobility. It sickened Raven. She never took any jobs necessitating being in the Emerald District. It was far too pretentious to her. Besides, it was excellent practice for her followers for when she did send them to the Sapphire District.

Finally, she crossed the Esplanade into the Sapphire District. It was quite fortunate Sarlik Manor was just off of the Esplanade. There were fewer other manors she had to worry about here, manors where people might be peeking from lacy curtains.

Silently, Raven crept onto the manor grounds. She could hear movement, footsteps moving evenly in time. Those footsteps could only belong to the City Guard, she knew. Only they were that disciplined. And that loud, she thought, smiling to herself. It made them easy to avoid.

She wasn’t surprised Lord Sarlik and his daughter were being protected by the City Guard. It happened periodically when a job went bad and the nobility were spooked. But it never lasted for more than a few days.

The City Guards didn’t scare Raven. If anything, she was even more determined, knew it wouldn’t be a problem to get around them. She could almost taste her revenge, could almost feel Lord Sarlik’s warm, red blood spilling over her bare hands. For this, she would remove her gloves. In her mind’s eye, she could see the look of fear and horror in Lord Sarlik’s eyes as the light went out of them, just as the light had gone out of Aven’s eyes.

She gritted her teeth as Aven’s dying face crossed her mind’s eye. She had to do this. She had to get her revenge. Sarlik had stolen her best friend, lover, and adviser from her. She would steal his life from his body.

She worked silently and automatically to get inside. With surprise, she realized she was entering the manor; she had no recollection of it. Her skills and instincts and training had moved her while her mind was preoccupied with Aven and thoughts of avenging his death. She felt lucky she hadn’t been caught.

Raven knew exactly which door would lead to Lord Sarlik. Down one hall, where Caidy’s rooms were, there was a guard, but Sarlik’s rooms were in another hallway and were not protected. It appeared the man was more concerned about his daughter than himself. At least he had his priorities straight. And it made her job easier.

She silently ghosted into Lord Sarlik’s chambers. Silvery moonlight bathed part of the sitting room, casting shadows long and tall over the rest of the room. The moonlight lit up the door to the bedroom, and Raven was glad to see it was partially open. That would eliminate the need to open the potentially creaky door.

She slipped into the bedroom and quietly unsheathed her knife. On the broad bed was a sleeping figure, the covers pulled up to the chest. Lord Sarlik slept on his side with his mouth open. A soft snore came from him.

Quietly, she approached the bed and raised her knife. She brought the blade down quickly, her body shielding the moonlight from sparkling on the blade. It was as hungry for blood as Raven was.

But Lord Sarlik shifted, moved further away from her. Her blade whispered just past him and struck the bed. Silently cursing, she pulled the knife from the bed, but there was no way she could go back for the kill.

Lord Sarlik had come awake with a start. He gasped and his body shifted as he struggled to sit up to find out what had disturbed him. By the time he had turned himself over, his fingers brushing against the hole the knife had made in his mattress, Raven was only a silhouette against the window. She vanished a moment later.