His friend, the vulture with the crimson eyes, had left him a message. As befitted an outcast, the crow had not shown himself but instead seen a crumpled note slipped into his pocket. Finn only discovered it when he’d buried his hands into his pockets on his way from the tower of ministers and back to the orphanage and he couldn’t tell how long it had been there, waiting to be read. Noth’s handwriting was sharp and aggressive, some pent-up rage shone through the lettering. It took Finn a moment to decipher and even longer to decide whether to heed the Avriel’s call, but then he considered he still owed the unfortunate bird a favor. Besides, he wouldn’t mind seeing Noth again. Outwardly, the resembled each other as much as night resembles day, but beneath the surface, Noth wasn’t so different.
And so, after another long day of work in Doran’s laboratory, he took a detour. The caretakers at the orphanage expected him to return at nightfall, such had been the agreement between them and Doran. It was beneficial to all. If Zipper would’ve had her way, he’d have been tied to a bedpost in the orphanage and been fed bugs until she decided to come back from pissing off to Foster’s Landing. What she had failed to realize was that by throwing Finn back into the orphanage, she had surrendered her claim on him and Doran had made good use of the opportunity to recruit a mildly reluctant helper.
The overworked caretakers were rather pleased with this arrangement too, glad to only have to cope with Finn’s antics at nighttime. To their pleasant surprise, Finn often returned worked beyond exhaustion and simply didn’t have the energy to cause any problems, except for simply plonking down on his bed the moment he returned.
Yawning, Finn made his way to the location described in the note. He didn’t often walk the richer circles of Etzos where he stood out like a sore thumb, even if he went through the trouble of trying to look decent. Fortunately, the same problem wasn’t as prevalent in the semi-dark of night.
He rounded a narrow corner, stopping a moment to check he’d come to the right place. From what the letter described, a rich merchant lived closeby and the back of his house could be reached through a narrow alleyway, shielded by a wooden gate that was always closed but never locked.
Finn looked around and spotted the lightly varnished door easily enough. Blood-red rose vines arched above the gateway, just as the letter had described. After checking if no one was looking, Finn pushed the door handle down and slipped through. A dark, narrow path, shielded by high walls on both sides, beckoned him closer. Finn stepped forward quietly, expecting to see two glowing embers emerge from the dark any moment.
It wasn’t until the pathway took a lazy turn to the right that he finally spotted the strange silhouette that was Noth and his glowing eyes. There were two more shadows, a burly man wearing a thick cloak and a mean looking woman rummaging through a collection of tools. Neither bothered to introduce themselves and Finn returned the favor.
“This the place?” Finn asked as he came up to Noth. They stood before a wrought-iron gate, flanked by tall hedges. Beyond the bars of the gate, a dirt path crisscrossed through a well-maintained garden and out of sight behind the trees that grew there. It had to be one of the largest houses in the entire city.
His eyes fell to Noth. “I’ll help you get in, but that’s all. I don’t want any trouble”
The burly man chuckled coarsely. “You’ve come to the wrung place then.”
“I say snot-nose is a liability,” the woman stated coolly as she sorted her tools and approached the gate with a lockpick. She shot a sideways glance at Finn, and bared her knackered teeth at him before resuming, “kids talk too much.”
But while she turned her head to the burly man, seeking his support, Finn had already made his move and squeezed himself sideways between the bars of the iron gate. He unfastened two bolt locks on the gate that would’ve been impossible to reach from the approaching side and nudged his head to the remaining lock. “Your turn.”