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8: So The Raven Crows

Dean, 1182

I left Larke behind, locked and secured in the room next to mine, and returned to the main meeting room. It remained gloomy and dark, as it always did, but it was a familiar place where The Raven often saw me. We had spent a lot of time in there, strategically planning for the future; it held fond memories of long nights and deep conversations.

She sat at her favorite chair. The bones rattled quietly with my footsteps as I approached, the femurs screeched as she shifted her weight, each sound playing into the masterful illusion. I had created it myself. In actuality, the chair was a soft, plush, armchair, covered in sleek, royal blue velvet. She loved it, but it wasn’t intimidating. I had imbued the illusion into the buttons, the shined mahogany legs, and every stitch of the fabric to create the mirage of her terrifying throne, fit for my deadly crime lord.

I sat opposite her, sprawled in a rickety wooden dinner chair at the table. She stared at me, unblinking.

“She’s a Suryan Mage,” she said bluntly.

I turned my ear to her sharply, shocked. My eyebrows raised and then furrowed.

“You heard me,” she said.

I blinked quickly. “How do you know?”

She rolled her eyes and sighed deeply at me, disappointed that I’d even asked. The fewer questions I voiced, the less I knew, and in matters like these, ignorance is often bliss.

“So...,” I stalled, “she’s a warrior sworn to the Usurper. She’s here to spy?”

“Most likely. What else?”

How could I have believed she was a poor woman? Larke’s very demeanor screamed elegance and education, a formal upbringing and a harsh strength. My face heated as I thought about our previous interactions; every false word that fell from her lips, I had taken as gospel.

“I wonder what exactly she wants. Anything she can get, I suppose,” she mused, her fingers delicately tapping her lips, deep in thought. “She’s very powerful.” Her eyes rose to meet mine, watching my reaction.

I stared back, twisting my mouth. “She’s certainly not blessed with your brand of magic.”

The Raven was also extremely powerful, but in a way completely opposite. Where with Larke I sensed a source of physical energy, The Raven was a magical sink. Everything she touched, if she willed it, she absorbed its magic, its life force. She was deadly and undetectable.

“No, definitely not. I know her.” The Raven tore her gaze away from me, now examining her fingernails.

“You know her?” I inquired.

“Well - I know her type,” she said, flicking her eyes back to mine. “All battle magic. She may be stronger than most, but she’s still just a warrior. There’s more to winning a war than brute strength, and that’s what the Usurper doesn’t get.”

“Brute strength has definitely worked for him so far,” I agreed. It had gotten him the Ryne, among others, and he now ruled the entire continent.

Her eyes shone with a fire. “It will be his downfall,” she said.

“So, what do you intend?” I sat back in my chair, throwing my foot up on the table leisurely. “She’s a spy. They’ve tried before and were met with swift death. You’ve had the opportunity... yet didn’t... what are you planning?”

If she thought it necessary, she never hesitated. A simple touch, and it would be over. No mess, no blood, nothing left but a lifeless body with no determinable cause of death. Just a husk, an empty corpse, devoid of life.

“Hmm,” she chuckled, “you’re right, I do have ideas for her. She might think she’s spying on us, but her presence is a double edged sword. We can use her, too.”

I nodded, grimacing.

“Get close to her,” she commanded, her voice that of a fearless leader. “Do what you must.”

She stood, and I mirrored her. The serious nature of this meeting had come to an end, though she still seemed tense.

She strode over to the window, peeking behind the heavy and dusty velvet curtains that kept the room as dark as she liked it. Before she had taken over this space, the previous leader, Kane Marsa, had liked to keep those curtains open; I’d never seen them shut before took over. I found myself nostalgic, missing the days I’d spent staring out at the city through those large, ornate windows. She simply looked outside, a pensive look upon her face.

“You know, you technically can’t give me orders,” I said, breaking the silence with easy banter.

We both smiled; here she was, a deadly crime lord, yet she was still just a young woman at heart. She deserved laughter and happiness just as much as the next person, if not more. I ached that she hadn’t had the opportunity for a normal, easy life. I wanted to give it to her.

“I’m well aware,” she laughed, her easy-going side showing through. “But, you’re not in charge yet. We have plenty of time before that happens.”

She circled the table towards me, fingers trailing on the dusty wooden top. She was my closest friend, the only person I genuinely trusted. I believed I was the same for her.

She met my eyes and asked, “Come see me tonight – it’s been too long.”

It had been too long since we’d been alone together, and I’d missed it. Spending time with her was peaceful, relaxing, a way to relieve the stress of each of our daily responsibilities. When we were together, we could simply be ourselves. That wasn’t a luxury that either of us were allowed to indulge in very often.

“Tonight,” I agreed.

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