Two lads were carrying several packages on the evening before All Hallows Eve, the usually smoggy streets of New Babbage were worse than usual, tinged with a sick yellow color which blanketed the streets and had managed to confuse the older of the two urchins.
The other was not more than eight years old and was following the older confidently. The young one was deluding itself that it was ready for the hard winter to come, but there was little chance that it would ever see the snow. Aessesser, the raven, could feel the call of its next victims from its perch on the lamppost, and the boys had wandered down the wrong street while navigating the canals. The man armed with the long blade was staring at the parcels the two boys were carrying and was ready to strike.
Joffery Teeds watched the two boys wander down the street into what he considered his web. They were obviously lost, as the older one stopped to study a lamppost, probably hoping to find a street name and regain his bearings. The man took a moment to watch in case the situation was not what it seemed.
“Ya cun read Hoyt?” The small one asked, before coughing in the thick fog.
The older one nodded, “A bit, Weasel…the nuffer I work for pays me fa learn.”
Joffery continued to listen to the two of them, taking a moment to fix his new tie and suit to look presentable and set the bowler hat properly on his head. He was a big fellow, and the clothes were too small for him, and there was some blood on the collar from the previous owner. Fortunately it was only a little and could be explained as a shaving accident.
He approached the boys, who jumped as his footfalls announced his approach. The fog and darkness had hidden him so well that the younger one was now scrambling to pick up his boxes. Joffery tried to smile at them reassuringly, “Are you boys lost?”
The one known as Hoyt stepped away, trying to balance the packages in one arm while reaching into his long coat, “No sir. We ain’ loss…” The younger one was still trying to pick everything up as Joffery moved slowly closer. Close enough to hear the older one whisper quietly, “Ge’ away from him, Weasel…”
The little one moved too slowly, and Joffery was on him before the lad could move. The boy screamed and tried to kick him, but the older man twisted him about the other way and forced him to look at his friend while he took out the knife and placed it against the urchin’s throat.
The one known as Hoyt had dropped his packages and drew a knife of his own. Joffery let the blade bite, blood now running down ‘Weasel’s’ neck, “Drop it lad, or you’ll be cleaning the boy’s blood off the pavement…not just his shirt.”
Joffery could feel the boy go rigid with fear, for the first time he probably knew what it was like to live on the streets of a city. The other boy dropped his knife and backed away slowly, showing his hands, “Easy misser…we don’ wan’ any frouble….”
“I don’t want any trouble either,” Joffery Teeds said as he pushed the blade in deeper. The boy near him whined in pain, and was struggling not to cry or cough, “So you’re not going to tell anyone what happened here tonight? Are you?”
The boy nodded slowly, but he had no intention of allowing either of these children to leave here alive tonight. He took the knife away from the younger boy’s neck and threw him into the alley he had come from and then stepped back.
The young boy was watching Joffrey nervously, distrustfully, “Weasel!”
“Hoyt…” Weasel said weakly, he tried to stand and then collapsed to his knees dazed. “Hoyt…I’m bleating…” The boy realized that his friend needed his help, but he watched Joffrey apprehensively.
“Go on then, I’ve got what I want.” He bent down and started to pick up the packages near him and pretended to have eyes only on the boy’s knife still on the ground.
The lad started to edge around him carefully, and began to enter his alley, his web from which neither boy would escape. He took his knife into hand and turned towards them as soon as he was sure that Hoyt was caught with the other. Weasel saw him coming, and let out a wordless warning which brought his friend’s attention to the knife which was going to rob them of their lives.
Laughter coming from behind stayed Joffery’s hand, loud and unnatural mirth that sent a shiver down his spine. He turned about looking for the source of the laughter. “Who’s there?!”
The laughter grew louder and more pronounced and he could hear other voices, hundreds and hundreds of people speaking, and yet no matter where he looked there was no one there but himself, the children, and the ravens.
Ravens? There were hundreds of ravens now lining the walls of the buildings next to him, but hundreds of birds couldn’t possibly have come out of nowhere.
The ravens watched Joffery hungrily and were arguing about what parts they would split amongst themselves. Horrified, the man realized they were the voices he had been hearing. He looked about nervously, yelling at the birds, trying to scare them away, slashing at the sky with his knife.
He felt a sharp pain in his back, and Joffrey dropped his knife as he groaned in pain. A raven had jammed its beak into his back, crimson stained his new shirt and the birds beak. The ravens descended on him as he cried out one final time.
Hoyt dropped his second knife, the one he kept hidden in his hat, and retreated back to the wall and rejoined Weasel. The two clung to one another. He didn’t know what had caused the man to start screaming or yelling at the roofs, but whatever it was it had just saved their lives…even if it was just in his head. He’d stabbed the man until he had stopped moving…he had never killed a man before…he became sick on the pavement, holding himself upright with a hand. It took a while to realize that Weasel was shaking him, “You awrigh, Hoyt?”
He nodded slightly, cleaning his mouth with his sleeve and was about to sit up when he noticed that the raven had just flown down from its perch on the lamppost. It took one single peck at the bloodied remains of Joffery and then held itself as if it had gotten its prize despite the fact there was nothing in its beak. It then turned to the two children and Hoyt heard a strange voice say, It is not your time. Not yet, but soon.
Laughter followed, a terrible laughter which slowly faded as the bird flew away. Weasel pulled on Hoyt’s coat, bringing him back to the present, “Wha he mean…anuver chance?”