A Kindness of Ravens: Chapter 1

“It reminds me of your heart.”

“Huh?”  Even with thousands of stars speckeling the coal black sky, Salem’s soft bronze eyes could only see for a few feet.  Luckily for her, however, her companion was so close their shoulders were practically touching, but following his upwards gaze led to nothing.  “A constellation I don’t know about?”

“No,” Mason smiled gently, but kept his jade eyes fixated between the stars, “The moon.”

“There’s no moon tonight.”

“I know.”

A pause: then a small fist struck his shoulder.  “Dick.”

“My defining quality.”  After casting down a grin, the pair stood in silence for a moment, a tender breeze playing with what little hair dropped beneath their cloth masks before a light from above suddenly gave life to their surroundings.  “Alright Red, that’s your cue.”

The woman smirked as she turned to her left, a torch on a castle’s roof pulsed, showing off the craftsmanship of her builders.  A glorious myriad of stones of various sizes and shapes composed the walls, held together by some sort powerful, ancient clay. It would’ve been more impressive if better people lived there, however.  The king of Hesperia was a mad fat fuck, a competent assassin away from losing his head, but luckily for him, Ravens were hired, not Crows.

Withdrawing her yew longbow and a pair of arrows connected by a thin rope with a long tail between them, she took a seat on the ground.  Leaning back, she kicked her feet up and slid the wood down her sandals, catching the ridges she’d carved long ago.  Satisfied with its stability, she readied her arrows, drawing back on the string as she pushed the bow forward with her feet.  Holding her breath to keep from shaking, she lined up her shot before letting the projectiles fly, almost instantaneously vanishing from her sight, but a faint pair of thuds soon after didn’t keep her holding her breath.  Grinning to her companion, she arose before looking back at the tail of rope, only a few feet off the ground and leading straight up the tower. Returning her weapon back over her shoulder, she watched the string rise a couple feet, and then drop right back down, the light above dying a moment later.  “Alright Green, after you.”

“Good try, but since it’d be your fault if we died...” Grinning, he motioned her up.

“Always the gentleman.”

“I just wished you’d dress like a lady on jobs like this.”

Shaking her head with a chuckle, Redwood grabbed the rope and with a hop, planting her feet on the side of the wall.  “Don’t make me cut this when I get up there.” With one foot in front of the other, Salem gradually scaled the structure, her nerves calm and heart steady.  No guard could see in this light, and with any luck, they knew it. It was a slow journey, but she made it there in time, and while she waited for Greenidge, she decided to catch her breath and admire Adam’s handywork.  A few years on the sea had taught him to tie a damn fine knot, but he always claimed that his manners had come from somewhere else.  Gently, her arrows were propped up against the wall, only an inch of rope cut off right before their nocks.  It wasn’t until after Mason joined her on the roof that she returned them to her quiver, trading them for her sandals and leaving them behind.  

“Took ya long enough.”

“Figured I’d give you a minute to keep your threat, Red.”  Shaking out his tired arms, Mason scanned the roof, keeping his voice down.  “Would it kill Adam to wait for us?”

“If he got seen, maybe.”

“I’d still rather have a lookout.”

Salem shrugged, bronze irises scanning for a door.

“Got it.”

Turning to her side, she watched her partner move to her left, motioning her behind him as he moved towards a trap door.  “Good eye, Green.”

“Good green eye, Green, you should’ve said.”

“Aye, good green eye, Green.  Good?”

“Barely,” Mason laughed at the daggers Salem shot his way, carefully lifting the lid.  A ladder led twenty feet straight down, but a fully armored guard was placed at its base, his open palm pressed against the wall he was leaning beside.  Exchanging a glance, Greenidge took the lead, going down just far enough that Redwood would have room to join him and close the hatch, as quietly as she could.  All four eyes watched the man in the narrow room below them, but after a minute, he closed one finger, then another, and another, until soon, his hand was a fist on the wall.  Nudging Salem’s calf with his head, Mason quickly descended, with the girl right behind him. Hearing the commotion above him, the guard left the cramped room for the hallway before him, and when Greenidge hit the floor, he was standing directly across from him, staring dead ahead through the heavy helmet that covered the entirety of his head.  His hand however, remained a fist. Nodding quickly, Mason motioned for Salem to hurry up, which she took as a cue to jump the last few feet. Half expecting it, however, Greenidge managed to catch Redwood like a bride, gently setting her down beside him.

As tempting as it was to be a smartass, Mason decided against being a dumbass and took the lead around the corner without comment.  On his heels, Salem mouthed a ‘Thanks Adam’ as they passed the armored man, who returned a curt nod. At the end of the hall, another guard stood with a balled fist, but when the pair moved towards him, he turned down the hall, Adam only moving when Salem and Mason had rounded the corner as well.  

Flanked by escorts, the thieves moved quickly in the night, ducking into the rooms or hiding behind furniture when they were cued patrols were coming.  Aside from one close call, which Wolfgang, the physical leader of their party, managed to avoid by aggressively passing off Salem as cousin to the princess and Mason as the tool she fucked, they made their way to the treasury, or rather the door that hid it.  A single man stood to protect it, or rather, did before making Wolfgang’s acquaintance. Passing the scarecrow the bulky man had dressed in stolen armor, the quartet pushed through, Greenidge taking a gander at the unconscious, naked man bound in the corner, beside the gold, glistening door that led to their prize.  Dozens of locks lined its right edge, but there were only a few latches exposed on the left. One of the first kings of Hesperia had installed it for his wife when their relationship had… soured. As far as anyone knew, it was only to keep her from running off into the night with their children, but the door was never reversed to prioritize breaking in over out in the following generations.  

Arms crossed, Greenidge spent the better half of a minute looking between his options.  “Remind me, the guards change every…?”


“And it’s been…?”

“About twenty minutes.  Maybe fifteen.”

“Gods above.”  Shaking his head, Mason looked back at his mission.  “Unless the bulk of these are half-assed, it’s gonna take me longer than two minutes apiece.  So… either we leave empty handed… or it’s gonna get real fuckin’ loud.”

Salem gave the group a moment to object, but when no one spoke up, she reached her hand out to Adam, who sighing, gave her the mace on his hip.  “Alright Green,” Forcing a smirk, she flipped the weapon over to the jade-eyed man, “Pick the lock.”

“With pleasure.”  Always happy to break something, his look was more sincere as he grabbed it.  Stepping towards the latches, he twisted it in his hand a few rotations before stepping into a swing, the edge of his mace colliding with the metal and turning it into scraps with a staggering bang.  Chuckling as his friends flinched, he shattered the others, slamming his weapon directly down on the hinge, causing the door to swing open a few inches before the locks on the far side stopped it. “Gentleman,” Looking between Wolfgang and Adam, Greenidge motioned to the left side of the door, “If you’d please.”  

Nodding in unison, the armored bandits rushed the door, ramming into it together, shoulder first as their wouldbe lockpick bashed the upper left corner.  It was louder than any drum could’ve dreamed to be, but they were able to get their crevice to crack open to just wider than a foot, and wider still at the top.  “Salem, you can fit that, can’t you?”

Letting out a sigh, the girl nodded to Adam.  “Yeah, if I can get propped up.”

Wolfgang, being the closest person to the corner who wasn’t Mason, nodded.  Crouching, he offered his hands, which the girl vaulted off of, turning in the air to thread the gap on her side, but the leap caused her to land awkwardly, crashing mostly on her shoulder and hip.  Rubbing the later, she quickly arose, hollering “Give me another!” as she turned to face the treasury.

Even through darkness, her eyes met heaven.  Shelves lined the former bedroom nearly from wall to wall, leaving only enough space to sidestep through the rows.  There were eight in total, with gems and coins spilling off like water, chilling her bare feet, while countless statues on their tops looked like an army.  With a smile so broad it hurt her face, she immediately began stuffing her pockets with anything readily available as her bronze eyes searched for their spoil.  The shock of the second bang she requested made her stumble, a clattering of coins echoing through the room as her shoulder struck wood, but not a moment after, she saw what her band of bandits had come for.  “I’ll be right out!”

And soon enough she was, rushing back with a gold chalice in hand, filled with rubies like wine, but a sudden stop caused some to splash against it edge and spill out.  A splintering crack of oak outside had caught her off guard, and peering in the gap of the golden door showed the exit to the hallway entirely off its hinges and blocked by at least the five knights she could see.  She wasn’t a good enough archer to thread the gaps in their armor, so she’d be as helpful as a rat in a sewer, Adam was a pacifist, and the only protection Mason had was some black cloth. Wolfgang was good, but he was no god and knew it.  He was also holding Greenidge at the time, by the throat, against the wall, whose cheek was bleeding.

“We know you’re in there, girl!”  Wolfgang’s bellow seemed to shake the castle, and even though he faced her, she saw his volume startle one of the guards behind him.  “Step out or I’ll send a corpse to keep you company!” Slamming Mason harshly against wall emphasized his threat.  “Now!”

“Alright, I’m coming!”  Still holding the chalice, she slid through the gap that separated herself from the eight, feeling Adam’s gauntlet guide her into Wolfgang’s reach, who snatched her prize.

“You!”  Voice still booming, his neck indicated the closest knight, a large man towering all but Wolfgang himself, as he held out the goblet.  “Return this, and do a full inventory on the treasury. I-”


“Do not fucking interrupt me, you worthless shit!”  Even the giant flinched at Wolfgang’s command.  “I don’t give a fuck what your job was, what your job is, is whatever the fuck I say.  I want every coin, every jewel, every speck of dust counted, and I don’t want to see your forsaken face until you know everything missing.  Is that clear?”


“Do not fucking speak.  Nod.”

The man nodded.  

“Then go!”

He went.

The other four men stared in silence before the man on the far left finally spoke up.  “Should we set up the rack?”

Taken aback, it took Wolfgang a moment to respond.  “Don’t bother.”

“Oh no, it’s no trouble at all!  In- in fact, I think the prince would love it if we used the iron maiden too, and I have to show some of the newer men how to clean it anyway.  It’d- it’d really be no problem.”

Newer?  Salem’s brow furrowed.  The boy barely sounded past his teens.

“I have my methods.”

“Can we watch?”  

The other trio nodded in agreement before the man on the far right added, “And I’ll get the prince!  He’ll be so excited!”

Too stunned by the giddy response to perspective torture, Wolfgang was unable to respond before the boy scampered off.  Once he had, however, he sent another after him. “Tell him we’re going to the roof, not dungeon.”

“But the dungeon h-”

“I can’t throw people off the dungeon, now can I?”

The trio exchanged a look before the man in the middle sent the smallest of them to go after their forth.  “I haven’t actually seen you before.”

“Is that a question?”

“Observation, sir.”

“Make another and I’ll have your eyes.”  After glancing at Adam, he motioned to Salem.  “Take her.” Following the order, Adam held Redwood’s wrist while Wolfgang ripped Greenidge off the wall before lowering his grip to the man’s arm, yanking it hard enough to pull it out of its socket.  Shoving him forward as the man yelped, he pushed between the guards while Adam quickened his pace to catch back up. There wasn’t another word spoken between any of the six as they moved back to their beginning, although some were attempted, but promptly shot down by Wolfgang.  Within a few minutes, they’d made it to the ladder Mason and Salem had so recently descended, Wolfgang leading the way up followed by his prisoner, and Adam leading his. A ways back, they could make out the clomping steps of the two previously sent away men, joined by the high pitched chatter of their prepubescent prince.  

Salem could scarcely see the stars above when Wolfgang struck the hatch open, but was quickly lost to the darkness when he stepped through.  The void of white dots Mason left when he entered the night made him easier to track, and Adam took his place beside him when it was his time, fingers tapping a countdown.  On the cue of his nod, both medium men dropped down to a crouch and seized Redwood by the arms with all the hands they had. In unison, they arched back like they were hurling a boulder to the shock of the men below her, but before one could grab her leg, she was gone.  Practically throwing the girl behind him, Mason’s palms abandoned Salem as soon as she was free of the gap, frantically dashing to the far side of the downed door with Wolfgang while Adam toppled in his armor to keep her from face planting. Furious shouts threatened them from below, but before the first knight could grip the ledge, Wolfgang and Greenidge slammed it shut with all their combined might, creating an apocalyptic bang on their pursuers.  

They could scarcely hear the faint sound of confusion from the watchtowers, but as the king’s men went to investigate, the small gang was already sprinting.  Adam led the way, stars guiding him to their rope as Mason passed out footlong remnants from its initial creation. The sailor's gauntleted hand found it in two taps, and without a second thought, tossed his excess coil over the line, then a tight forty-five degrees from the ground instead of the straight plummet it was so recently.  With a leap, he led the way down the makeshift zipline, Mason on his heels and Wolfgang behind Salem after she slipped her sandals back on.

Laughter spilled from her lungs as wind rushed against her face, but the ride was quickly over her rope ran over a fairly large knot.  Mason had blocked her view of Adam’s abandonment, but she quickly tucked her knees when he released and did the same once she’d passed him.  Striking the ground clumsily, she stayed low when Wolfgang sailed overhead, landing in a harsh thud a foot away. A pair of claps gave direction, but Salem could see starlight dancing off the knives the shadow’s hands unsheathed, lobbing the first though the rope, creating a satisfying snap as it severed the tension.  

“You’re getting better!”

“One of us must!”  She couldn’t see it in the dark, but Salem could picture the grin on her mounted friend as the woman retrieved a torch with her free hand, igniting it with a single strike of her blade.  It felt like glory pulsing as the flames licked the air, its light dancing off the armor Wolfgang and Adam were stripping, and illuminating the other four horses Fiona had brought before the woman glanced back at Redwood.  “Did we claim our prize?”

Smirking herself, Salem reached under her cloak and pulled, wincing as frays from a metal band scraped her skin.  Once it was off, however, she ripped it out like a hidden dagger, hoisting it directly in front of the flame. The entire forest turned gold for a moment, shadows dancing as the fire flicked behind the late queen’s diadem, playing in its scaled pattern while the army of amethysts in front glittered off the reflections in the men’s remaining armor.  For a moment, the band all stood in awe, but a the thud of the castle gate in the distance prompted haste, Wolfgang helping the bruised Mason on his horse while Fiona threw her torch in a mound of dirt below.

“Come friends, let us leave this place!”

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