The night was cloudy, depriving the land the beauty of the full moon. Accessible, yet remote, the city outskirts were obviously the quietest parts. There wasn’t much traffic, not many people scrambling about. Here, one could connect with nature and find enlightenment in the stillness. And just because it was situated far from the graces of population didn’t mean that it wasn’t safe. Contrary to the fairy tale presentation of far-flung areas, the outskirts were actually free of highwaymen and other no-good punks. And the outskirts were that because of one man.
Within the dark confines of an office situated inside the old chapel sat a bull of a man, bible in one hand and a silver pendant in the other. “Forgive me, Father.” He said as he rubbed on the lustrous piece of metal. “I have sinned. Sin upon sin, many my sins are.” The man rose and lit up several candlesticks by the makeshift altar beside his desk before sinking back to the comfort of his chair. The luminance of the flames dancing atop the six red pillars of wax outlined the darkness of his face. His features, undeniably handsome, but worn by years of guilt and worry, formed the mask of stoicism he was known for.
“I feel the fires close in on me.” He chanted. “Yet though I walk to the heart of the Inferno, by His grace I shall not be harmed. Demons may stalk and prey on me, but they cannot touch me. Though I maybe the wayward sheep, He watches over me still as His son. Father, forgive me for I have sinned time and again.” He contemplated some more, basking in the sanctuary of the shadows. He then ended his prayer with a traditional “amen”.
Gavin Herschel Moore, commonly known as the “Raven” within and outside of the city, was one of the major powers of the whole chapter, and had a renown that earned him the title of “Death Omen”. Whenever members of the Wings, both high ranking and low, were asked who exactly Moore was and what of his background, they’d always give the same answer: ashen-faced silence. No one would dare speak of the past, either because they wanted to protect the Raven’s name, or they were simply afraid to. As his alias implied, Gavin dealt with the bloodier affairs of the Corvidae. Wherever he went, he invited death and destruction. He was the group’s hatchetman, with a reputation so dreaded that the very mention of his name quaked hardened veteran and average Joe alike. Every threat uttered by the Wings that included his name had the fear equivalent of a death sentence.
And yet Gavin felt heavier than before. His hands still wore a fresh red that reeked of a metallic odor, his sleeves lined with gunpowder. Tonight he knew well that no amount of prayer could ease his suffering. He, as he himself said so, had gone too far. The man slipped out his cell phone and dialed up one of his contacts. “Hello?” a voice came sleepily. Moore answered a bit shaky yet still stern in tone, “Yes, this is Raven. Could you drop by here? I’ve got some letters that need delivering.” He heard the person on the other line straighten up. “Sure thing, sir. Should I take my car?” Gavin shook his head. “No, just take a cab, I’ll pay for the fare, alright? Thanks.” He heard the receiver click.
He slid open the drawer of his desk and drew a couple of photographs which he laid out on the table. There he beheld the faces of several men and women, then whispered “I am not one to judge how you lived your lives. You may or may not have been good people, I will never really know. But what I do know is that what I did was business.” The man collected the photos and put them back in to storage. “It was nothing personal, just business.” Truly business, which was why he then this time slipped out a checkbook from the drawer and filled out every pricey slip, writing down impressive figures for every single name that would make a man’s heart race just as the mouth would water when faced with such a sumptuous morsel. And he put them in separate envelopes. And on each envelope he wrote the word “condolences”.
“Thank you, good sir, and rest assured that you have made a wise choice in joining us today. We firmly believe that success is the only option. You can expect good profits with us.” All this was said with the signature salesman charisma that Johan Franco Syrah was known for. He shook his client’s hand a second time and sent him off with a warm smile, happy that he had played by the books and satisfied his customer. And happier, because more cash was sure to come in by the end of the week.
What a busy week it was. He had been negotiating nonstop with various businessmen in his endless pursuit to expand the group’s influence. He being one of the key figures of the Corvidae society, in his palm rested six pubs and four restaurants. Johan was in charge of the financial aspects of the Western rule. Ever since he was appointed head, he had worked without end to keep the money coming. Unlike the rest of the territories, Corvidae never dealt in illegal things, save for the Rook’s end, which he refuses to comment on. Never had there been any form of shady dealings within the backrooms of his establishments, he made sure of that. And they politely warned anyone who tried to start to act smart. Anyone who persisted and refused simply “vanished”. Everything was clean legit. His shops and cafes boomed because he had good marketing strategies, and the food was indeed good. They stayed away from drugs, smuggling, and gambling. And because of that they never experienced any heat from the law. In fact, the cops even respected them for it.
His office was left a bit messy after the lengthy discussion with his client, but it was all worth it. He got the man to sign an agreement and soon enough they’d have a new investor. He buzzed one of his helpers to send in someone to clean the place. Johan stood in front of the mirror and tidied himself up, straightening out the sleeves and buttoning his cream colored shirt, fastening his black tie. Not only did he play the part of rich guy, he looked it, too. Johan wasn’t much of a fighter. Four years ago, during the war that tore the city apart and birthed the four territories, was the first time he had ever held, pointed, and fired a gun. It was then he earned his first kill. And he felt nothing but distaste. Johan strongly disagreed with violence, not because he was a peacekeeping man, no. Johan would gladly have one of his men kill off anyone he’d perceive as a threat to the business. He merely refrains from resorting to the use of force because he believes it’s far more costly to sustain bloodshed when there still stands room for negotiation for the benefit of both parties. Now, with more business partners coming in to join them, Johan couldn’t help but be filled with pride. He, in his own way, made the Corvidae prosper. And he knew that without him, without his skills and contributions, without his contacts, Corvidae would not be the juggernaut that it was today. Erin and Yvette could only dream of matching his sales talk and his charm. Johan Franco Syrah, “The Jackdaw”, was indeed worthy of his name: a fortune seeker in the purest form.
On his desk was a picture of him and his two siblings during Christmas dinner. His younger sister Yvette clad in a maroon knitted sweater, himself dressed in a red tee shirt, and his half-brother Erin who was only a year younger dressed in a similar fashion as he did. It was only then he noticed that all of them were smiling Mona Lisa smiles. Photographs were supposed to capture joyful moments abundant whenever people got together for celebration. But that photo looked more like a compliance shot than a portrait of genuine merriment.
“Look who decided to show up.” Johan said followed by a few insulting ‘tsks’.
Erin answered, slamming the door behind him, “I’m here, as requested.”
“Just half an hour late. Not bad.”
“Spare me your sarcasm, Franco.” He snorted in disgust. “Now, what was it you wanted?”
Johan mixed himself a drink and poured one for his half-brother as well. He dialed Yvette’s number and asked her to report back to the office. Umber sniffed around a bit before curling up at Erin’s feet. Johan said “Let’s wait for Yvette to get here before I discuss what’s to come.”
It wasn’t until twenty more minutes before they heard the door creak open. The pretty young lady bowed her head. “Sorry I’m late.”
Johan waved her to take a seat. “Alright, here’s what’s up. There’s going to be a meeting next week. I’m letting you guys know this because you guys are taking part in it.” His siblings met him with looks of surprise.
Erin went first. “Wait, why is it we suddenly get to go to this meeting? More importantly, why are they inviting me as well? I’m not even a formal titleholder here.”
“Just be glad you’re actually called to go, alright, Erin?” Yvette snickered. “My question, however, is in the same vain as Erin’s. Why suddenly call us, when you’re the head of the Jackdaw?”
“Because,” Johan answered. “Nobody ever said that the Jackdaw was a single entity. Each of us may carry different names, but we’re all in this together, alright?”
“Still doesn’t explain the sudden invites.” Erin sighed.
“Just get your asses to that meeting, alright? The other three will be there, so don’t fuck up. Erin, I’m asking you nicely, don’t bring Umber along during the meeting, alright?”
Erin reasoned, “But Zinfandel and Atra like him. Why am I supposed to leave him out?”
“One of the delegates from the South has asthma, and can’t tolerate the presence of dogs and cats no matter how much he likes them. That’s why Umber’s off the list, got it?” Johan smiled sadly as he watched his step-brother concede to the point and just nod. “As for you, Yvette, the Hounds will be bringing along their girlfriends. It’s your duty to keep them occupied while the meeting is going on.” He could see her roll her eyes in contempt. It wasn’t really much of a secret that Yvette strongly disliked the girls of the South block. She deemed them as nothing but hicks dressed in trampy clothing. “Come on, Yvette, can you do this or not?”
“Do I have a choice?” she snarled, shrugging. Johan took it as a yes.
“That’s that, then. You guys can head on home. Say hi to mom for me, alright?”
Yvette stopped him. “Wait, you’re not coming with us?”
“I’ve still got to meet up with Larise and Gavin. I’ll be home late, so you guys can go on straight to bed. Just leave some dinner for me. Mom said she cooked roast beef tonight. Nothing beats her cooking.”
“Food tastes best when people eat it together. I guess you wouldn’t know that since you’ve missed dinner for over half a year now.” Erin parted in a somewhat scolding tone. “But who am I to tell you what to do. You’re old enough to set your own rules. Just get home in one piece, boy, and stop making mom worry. Come on, Umber.” He went out the door with Yvette and his loyal hound just behind him.
“Yeah,” he whispered as the door shut behind them. For a minute there life seemed empty. “I’ll go do that.”