Chapter One: The Sixth Floor
Raven was known for two things.
One, he was notorious for just being himself. In Angel's Home, things weren’t always safe. Fights were constantly breaking out, from the youngest children to nearly adults. Weapons could be scattered across the floor like toys. But compared to the rest of the city, Angel's Home was a haven. That didn’t make it childproof, especially not mischief proof, but it was still better than most places.
Raven was one of the reasons it wasn’t always safe. He was constantly hanging off of the stair railings or losing focus when it was his turn for kitchen duty or some other laughable mistake. Rumor was he’d managed to give the leaders food poisoning once. They’d forgiven him, of course. Raven somehow managed to fall into the leaders favor. No one knew how, and Raven made sure to keep it that way.
Two, Raven was a legend. Angel's Home housed children from about 4 to 18. Raven had spent his entire life under this roof. Here they were taught them how to survive, how to make a living, and generally how to get on their feet after being abandoned by any parental figure they’d had before.
In short, the easiest way to make a living in Barel was killing. Some kids got into street fighting or other illegal businesses, but everyone had heard of Angel’s Home for Lost Children. Most people came in at least once hoping for a night’s reprise from living on the streets. Angelica, one of the leaders, brought them in, and quickly educated them in her strict doctrine. Unlike the lone wolf life most people were used to, Angel’s Home forced everyone to pitch in. If you didn’t do your part, you wouldn’t get to do the fun stuff.
Raven slowly drew a knife from the hilt hidden in his boot. Footsteps echoed down the hall, and Raven pushed himself deeper into the closet. He was smothering a snicker when a crunch came from beneath his foot. It wasn’t a loud sound, but it was easily enough to alert someone of his location.
’Hope that wasn’t anything important,’ he thought.
Raven flung the door open silently, and pushed his target into the wall. Years had taught him how to be quiet, when to pounce. The child Raven caught either didn’t have this skill, or had forgotten from shock. The scream was accompanied by an all too loud thud from the wall. The knife shot down, sticking his target to the wall by his shirt.
“Take tha-” Raven stopped and stared down at his target. It was a min, one of the under-fifteen kids. Terrified brown eyes stared back up at him. Usually Raven could tell them apart by how loud they were, but this kid had been different. He must have been a new addition,
’He wouldn’t be up on the sixth floor otherwise.’
Raven groaned a little as he pulled out the knife, “Sorry, kid. Thought you were someone else.”
“Thought he was me, eh?” A knife was suddenly pushed against his throat.
“Come on!” Raven cried, tossing up his hands in defeat. The pressure against his throat was released.
As he turned around Oliver’s freckled face was scrunched in laughter. Raven rubbed a hand against his throat, and felt it come off wet.
“We said no blood!” Raven hated himself for smiling even as he tried to yell. Ollie was a good friend, they’d been inseparable since Oliver had first shown up on the doorstep.
“You’re just a sore loser, Nevermore.” Oliver shrugged, “It’s barely a scratch.”
Raven’s smile widened to show his teeth, “Not like I could die of blood loss, y’know.”
“What you gonna do?” Oliver said with joke seriousness, “Cry to ma?”
After nearly a lifetime under Angelica’s supervision, it wasn’t uncommon to call the grown-up something a little more endearing. It usually began by an accidental and mortifying moment of calling her “Mom”. After the laughter died down she would just give a smile, cheeks glowing, and say, “Come’on kid, back to work.”
The min interrupted Raven’s train of thought by tapping him on the back, surprisingly firm. Raven turned around. He nearly winced when he saw how wide the other boy’s eyes were.
‘Here we go again.’
“You’re Nevermore- The Raven.” the boy quickly corrected, “You-”
“I know what I did, kid.” Raven quickly interrupted. Everyone in the building had done something illegal, some even bragged on it, but Raven couldn't seem to escape the fame he'd earned accidentally.
After the initial shock wore off, the boy’s face had shifted to a much more serious expression, “Do you know where room 12 is?”
Oliver cut in, “Min’s aren’t supposed to be on this floor.”
No one was. The sixth floor had taken some sort of structural damage years ago. They would have left the Complex entirely, but any buildings big enough for everyone were legitimate businesses who wouldn’t take sympathy on a band of rogues.
The boy lifted his chin as he made eye contact with Oliver, “Neither are rin’s.”
Rin’s were boy’s fifteen and older. Oliver and Raven had only recently joined this group. Raven hadn’t even unpacked his small bag of possessions he’d left in his new room.
Raven and Oliver exchanged guilty glances.
“Alright, let’s make a deal,” Raven said, “You keep quiet and we’ll…”
Oliver cut in, “Make sure you get the easy chores this week.”
“Why would I want that?”
Raven laughed, and Oliver gave him a withering look.
“It’ll make your life a whole lot easier,” Oliver bartered.
The boy looked down to his shoes, quietly considering the deal. The silence was echoing as the two waited for an answer.
Oliver clapped his hands together, “Perfect! Now let’s get downstairs before anyone notices.”
Their footsteps were nearly silent after years of practice, though Raven would argue that he was just a little quieter. The only noise was a small thump coming from the younger boys shoes. Raven fought the urge to turn around.
’Not everything is a mission.’ he reminded himself.
The min tailed close, as if he were trying to get as far away from the sixth floor as possible, “The elevator is the opposite-”
“Too obvious.” Raven and Oliver said in unison.
“Isaiah will catch us if we go that way.” Raven explained.
Isaiah was the by far the least popular leader. He was stingy, constantly chastising the children for some little misstep. Unlike most, Isaiah took pride in cutting his hair regularly. He had black hair, and judgmental eyes almost the same shade, but leaning more toward brown.
“Then how do we get downstairs?”
Oliver grinned, “Zip line.”
After the sixth floor became unsafe, the leaders made sure to close off the stairs. Most of the stairs had been falling into disrepair anyway. At least two were split down the middle.
Raven stopped and opened a door to one of the rooms.
“Is this the same room?” Oliver asked.
Raven tossed him a cocky smile, “Of course it is. I have a great memory.”
“Shut up.” Raven said as he opened the closet. Hanging from a bar was at least twelve coat hangers. Raven grabbed three, “Let’s go.”
The boy tagged along, quiet, even though Raven could see the questions burning in his eyes. They didn’t run much further before Raven turned the corner. By the time Oliver and the other kid caught up he had already set up the zip line. In reality it was a simple rope that had been tied tightly from end to end. The coat hangers were put on the rope before being bent so there was no chance they would fall off.
Raven grabbed the first one, “Let’s go!” he cried before pushing off. The hall quickly lost the moonlight that fell through holes in the ceiling. Plunged into darkness, Raven listened closely for the whizzing of the other two coat hangers.
Barely five seconds after he’d started, Raven stuck his feet out. Landing would make a loud noise for sure, but it was either that or fall and risk twisting his ankle. Instead of the usual hard material the wall was made of, Raven’s feet hit something softer.
His eyes widened in the pure terror of a someone who was caught.
Isaiah’s frowning face was illuminated by the lantern’s cold, electric light.