20: A Rendezvous
Our heist proved successful; the journey back to the Naga compound deemed largely uneventful. We had sauntered right through the public roads, looking just like a guarded caravan traveling to Tarpik. We delivered the cart shortly after dawn, making it on time even though we’d stopped to rest for a short while. The rest of our team and the cargo had arrived at the manor’s front door with a sigh of relief – everything had gone perfectly. I pretended to forget my moment of weakness when I’d rested against Dean. After we woke, he politely ignored it, and I followed suit.
After everything had been unloaded, Dean left me to relax in the great hall. The same hall looked so empty without anyone in it. The last time I’d been here was when they had hosted the welcome party for me months ago. I savored the momentary solitude, sitting with my back against the table on a solid wooden bench. I’d been attached to Dean every day since I’d gotten here, only solitary in my locked room during the night.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, relaxing in my isolation. A tapping of feet, a steady even pace, stopping directly in front of me. A waft of air; a clean scent filled my nose. Was I allowed no time for myself? I peeked through thick lashes to see who was bothering me now. I recognized a tall silhouette, a thick, muscly frame. Spenser.
“Glad to see you made it back alive,” he said casually.
I opened my eyes fully to see him leaning back on the table opposite me, mirroring my posture. I sat up straight to look him in the eye.
“You too,” I responded, doing my best to keep my face calm.
“Come to my study… we have much to discuss.” He stood and held out his hand to help me up.
I took it and ignored the sinking feeling of dread that filled my stomach.
We walked side by side back to his study, as he called it. I assumed he would want to discuss what he had discovered thus far, and what we were planning to do next. I had almost forgotten we were supposed to be teamed up – his involvement in my life was minimal, at best. He had said he would help me uncover information as long as I promised to bring him to the palace when I escaped. I wondered what sort of information he had for me.
Finally, we reached his room. It looked different when well lit. The bathroom door was closed, his bed neatly made, the chair tucked tightly into the desk next to the over-laden bookshelves. He ushered me inside and shut the door quietly behind us. It clicked into place, the sound instantly making me feel on edge. He turned to me, an intense look upon his face.
I remained silent, waiting for him to speak.
“… So, the royal ball,” he started, leaning up against the door he had just shut, his arms crossed.
I sat on his bed, watching him watch me intently. “…Indeed,” I answered, waiting patiently for him to make his point.
“We will need to go. That’s going to be our escape.”
“So soon?” I questioned, smoothing out his covers next to me absentmindedly.
He shrugged. “We won’t have a better opportunity to defect.”
“Perhaps,” I allowed, considering the idea.
He had a point. All we would have to do is step away into the throne room, hand deliver some people and information directly to the King. I grimaced, ignoring the twist in my stomach.
“It’s decided then,” he said briskly.
He left his stance to pace small circles in front of the door. How convenient that he had come up with making sure he benefited from this partnership – I wanted to know when he would benefit me. He had promised to tell me the secrets he’d uncovered from his years of living with the Naga and had yet to do so.
“So that takes care of my end of the deal – I bring you to the palace and secure your future for you. What’s in it for me?” I stood to meet him, staring intently into his face. “What do you know?”
His green eyes held a smile of knowledge; secrets brimmed behind them. I narrowed mine, irritated.
“You want to know about Spate?” he questioned, meeting my gaze with equal fervor.
He was savoring having the upper hand. I seethed. I hated being under his influence, hated that I had to rely on him – or anyone – right now.
“Of course.” I huffed, exasperated.
“I know where it comes from.” he supplied gleefully, gloating in his superior knowledge.
I waited for him to continue, but he just kept grinning from ear to ear, relishing the moment.
“Well don’t hold out on me now!” I shouted in a whisper, barely restraining myself from strangling the answer out of him.
“We make it right here, in the compound,” he said smugly, his hands resting on his hips.
Well, that’s news. “It’s not imported?” I asked.
Everyone had assumed Spate was smuggled in from overseas. I myself had previously assumed that the Naga’s foreign support was related, even. The King himself, and the Suryan Mages, had thought so as well. It appeared that was false. But if that’s the case, then did that mean the Naga gang had foreign support for the rebellion instead?
“Nope,” he said, popping the ‘p’ at the end of the word. “Somebody here, not sure who, makes it themselves. That secret is more tightly kept than anything else.”
So, they have foreign support, at least one incredibly powerful mage fabricating drugs, and a talent for raising funds. The Suryan Mages had assumed that the drug was magical, but we hadn’t heard of anyone that was powerful enough to accomplish this level of large-scale production. Which was why we’d assumed it was imported. Who was behind this? The question burned, souring my tongue and unsettling my insides. I wondered what else Spenser knew.
“That’s certainly interesting… what about the identity of The Raven?” I asked hopefully, holding in a breath, anxious for his response.
“What about her?” he shrugged, nonchalant.
“Who is she?” I asked, a little too forcefully. Why couldn’t anything with him ever be easy?
“Does the name really matter?” he said, shrugging again. “She’s the King’s enemy, the face of the Naga gang. She’s a person. If I tell you her name, it’s still irrelevant.”
“The King wants to know who she is,” I prodded, doubting I’d get anything else out of him.
He stepped closer to me, instantly making me feel crowded in the small space of his room.
He leaned in close, and whispered dramatically, “She’s simply The Raven; as the stories go, she’s a common girl, stolen from her family by Kane Marsa, trained in the arts of deception and ruthless violence. Death follows her wherever she goes, just as the shadow follows a raven’s flight.”
His face was inches from mine; his eyes flitted to my lips. We both blinked quickly, and he pulled back, easing the tension that had built up throughout the conversation. He inhaled heavily and straightened his posture.
“We can discuss the details of our escape later, after we know the Naga’s plan. Deal?” He extended his hand to me to shake.
I clasped it in response, firmly, shook it once, and then dropped it in wordless agreement.
“I’ll come find you again when the time comes. Until then, darling.”
He opened the door for me, and I left, feeling more confused than I had when I’d entered.