Streets and Signals

Living on the surface was like treading on broken glass. Every move we made in the streets was a terrible risk, and for every moment we spent in the public view that risk heightened just a little bit more. Our faces were plastered on posters at every street corner, menacing passers-by with digitally enhanced scowls. There was a healthy reward offered for any information on our whereabouts, and a positive goldmine offered if we would be handed over to the authorities. For this reason, Kris and I stayed well out of the main streets, keeping to the dirty alleyways where the scum of the city did their dirty deeds. We hid our faces as best we could with scarves, and I hoped that the filthy mass of scraggly beard I had accumulated would hide any of my most noticeable features.

Kris thought we should begin looking for the Raven immediately, but, as I told her, that was impossible. There was no point looking for the Raven – he wasn’t foolish enough to put himself anywhere that people could find him. Besides, if we started searching we ran a far higher chance of falling into the hands of the mercenaries who stalked the streets, sniffing for anyone or anything who could put gold in their hands. If they knew we were among them here, we would be back in the Arena before we could squeak.

But mercenaries weren’t the only ones watching the streets. Back in the glory days, when the gangs had been at the height of their power, almost everyone in this part of the city had been in the Raven’s pay. If you had walked down a street in those days, you could almost guarantee that at least half the people you saw were watching for him, keeping in touch via a vast network of informants, messengers and hungry lowlives who would do almost anything for a crumb from the Raven’s hand. That had been the true genius of the Raven’s work; using the eyes and ears of the people to watch every inch of his territory. If anyone so much as sneezed, one of the Raven’s people would know about it.

Nowadays, though, especially after the Kamarov disaster, the Raven’s organisation had all but disintegrated. Most of his inner circle were dead or exiled, all his assets seized, and the common people that had been the bastion of his power had dropped their allegiances and fled like rats from a sinking ship. Some, like Lucatz, had gone freelance, while others had slipped away in the baggage holds of traders and spice ships to look for better pickings elsewhere. The few loyalists that had stayed by were fewer now, and far more cautious. But they were there. I could feel them watching us every time we set foot on the street, haunting our every step like shadows. If I hadn’t known they were there, I never would have guessed we were being followed at all. These were not the casual observers the Raven had employed before, they were hardline loyalists, professionals. Dangerous.

Kris hated them. Unlike me, she was not used to facing foes she couldn’t see or fight. Every move she made was sharp and jerky; a constant fit of flickering eyes, fidgeting feet and dirty nails digging deep into her palms. She seemed certain that we would be set upon at any moment, but I knew that was not the way it worked down here. The Raven’s agents would shadow us, but none of them would dare make a move without his say-so. So I ignored them, but was sure to always keep my hands at my sides, middle finger furled beneath my thumb in the signal I had accommodated from the very first day I had joined the Raven’s ranks.

Find me, the signal said. We need to talk.

And find us they did.

The End

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