The Raven – Sylvain Reynard

Alone figure stood high atop Brunelleschi’s dome, under the shade of the gold globe and cross. His black clothing faded into the encroaching darkness, rendering him invisible to the people below. Not that they would have seen him. From his vantage point, they looked like ants. And ants they were to him, an irritating, if necessary, presence in his city. The city of Florence had been his for almost seven hundred years. When he was in residence, he spent the moments before sunset in the same place, surveying his kingdom with Lucifer-like pride. This was the work of his hands, the fruit of his labor, and he wielded his power without mercy. His considerable strength was magnified by his intellect and his patience. Centuries had passed before his eyes, yet he remained constant. Time was a luxury he owned in abundance, and he was never hasty in his pursuit of revenge. Over a hundred years had come and gone since he’d been robbed of some of his most prized possessions. He’d waited for them to resurface and they had. On this night, he’d restored the illustrations to his personal collection, the sophisticated security of the Uffizi Gallery causing him only the most trifling of inconveniences. So it was that he stood in triumph against the darkening sky, like a Medici prince, looking out over Florence.

He smelled rain on the warm air as he contemplated the fate of those responsible for acquiring his stolen illustrations. He’d intended to kill them two years previous, but had been thwarted by a tiresome assassination attempt. The war that ensued between the underworlds of Florence and Venice had kept him occupied since then. He’d won the war, successfully annexing Venice and all its territories. And his prey had finally returned to the city. Now was the time to have his revenge. He had time enough to plan the killings and so he stood, enjoying his success, as a warm, persistent rain began to fall. The ants below scattered, scurrying for shelter. Soon the streets emptied of human beings. He clutched the case under his arm more closely, realizing that his illustrations were in need of a dry space.

In the blink of an eye, he traveled down the red tiles to a lower half dome before leaping to the ground and sprinting across the square. Soon he was climbing to the roof of the Arciconfraternita della Misericordia, an adjacent, aged building. There was a time when he would have served the Arciconfraternita, joining in their mission of mercy, rather than treating them as a hurdle. But he hadn’t been merciful since 1274. In his new form, the concept never entered his consciousness. Some hours later, he flew across the tiled roofs at great speed, dodging raindrops and heading toward the Ponte Vecchio. The smell of blood filled his nostrils. There was more than one vintage, but the scent that attracted his attention was young and unaccountably sweet. It resurrected in him memories forgotten, images of love and loss. Other monsters moved in the darkness, from all parts of the city, racing toward the place where innocent blood cried out from the ground.

He changed direction and increased his speed, moving toward the Ponte Santa Trinita. His black form blurred against the night sky as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop. As he ran, the question uppermost in his mind was: Who will reach her first? Chapter One The streets of Florence were almost deserted at one thirty in the morning. Almost. There were a few tourists and locals, groups of young people looking for entertainment, homeless people begging, and Raven Wood, limping slowly down the uneven street that led from the Uffizi Gallery to the Ponte Santa Trinita. Raven had been at a party with colleagues from the gallery and foolishly declined a ride home. Her friend Patrick had offered, since her Vespa was in the shop, but she knew he didn’t want to leave Gina’s flat. He’d been nursing a secret crush on Gina for months. On this evening, he seemed to have succeeded in attracting her attention. Marginally.

Raven didn’t have the heart to separate the prospective lovers. While she accepted that love was not for her, she took secret delight in the love lives of others, especially her friends. So she insisted on finding her own way home. That was how she found herself walking, with the assistance of her cane, toward her small flat in Santo Spirito, which was on the other side of the river. Little did she realize that her decision to decline a ride home would have far-reaching consequences for herself and her friends. Her colleagues wrongly assumed her limp was something she’d been born with, and so, out of politeness, they ignored it. She was grateful for their silence, since her limp held a dark secret she was unwilling to tell. She didn’t think of herself as handicapped. She thought of herself as mildly disabled. Her right leg was somewhat shorter than the other and her foot turned outward slightly, at an unnatural angle.

She couldn’t run and she knew it was painful to watch her walking. At least she tried to make her everpresent cane attractive, decorating it with whimsical designs drawn by her own artistic hand. She laughingly called it her boyfriend and dubbed him Henry. Some women might have been worried about walking the streets of Florence late at night, but not Raven. She rarely attracted attention, apart from the rude stares at her leg. In fact, people often ran into or brushed past her as if she were invisible, making far too much body contact. This was likely because of her appearance. The polite would have termed her figure Rubenesque, if they could have found it under her oversized clothes. To modern eyes she was overweight, her extra pounds compounded by baggy garments and well-worn sneakers that added little to her fivefoot-seven height. Her hair was dark, almost as dark as a raven’s wing, and carelessly pulled into a ponytail that swept her shoulders.

In comparison to the many attractive and well-dressed women who inhabited Florence, she was considered plain. But her eyes were beautiful, large and deep and almost an absinthe green. Alas, no one ever took the time to notice her eyes, hidden as they were behind oversized black frames. Not that Raven would have been comfortable with the attention. She wore the glasses in order to distance herself from people, switching them for reading glasses that actually aided her eyesight, when necessary. As she approached the Ponte Santa Trinita from the Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli, she cursed the fact that she hadn’t brought an umbrella. The rain was enough to clear the streets and bridge of pedestrians, but not enough to soak her. She elected not to seek shelter and simply continued, limping as she did everything else—with dogged determination. She watched as a trio of rough-looking men approached the bridge ahead of her from Via de’ Tornabuoni. They were not deterred by the rain, their speech loud and raucous, their steps unsteady.

The sight of drunks in the city center was not unusual, but Raven’s pace slowed. She knew too well the unpredictability of a drunk. She clutched her old, worn knapsack more tightly as she continued toward the bridge. It was at that moment she saw Angelo. Angelo was a homeless man who spent his days and nights begging for coins. Raven passed him on her way to and from the Uffizi. She always stopped to greet him and give him money or some food. She felt a kinship with him since they both walked with a cane. Angelo was developmentally disabled, which only increased her compassion. As she walked, her gaze traveled from Angelo to the drunks and back again.

A terrible feeling of dread passed over her. “Good evening, friends!” Angelo’s Italian pierced the rainy darkness. “A few coins, please.” The cheerful hope in his voice caused Raven’s stomach to churn. She knew the cruel fate of hope when it was misdirected. She began limping faster, her eyes fixed on her friend, willing herself not to trip and fall. She was almost to the bridge when she saw Angelo lifting his hands and crying out. The largest man was urinating on him. Angelo tried to move away, but the man followed. The other men cheered.

Raven was not shocked. Angelo was homeless, dirty, crippled, and slow. Each of these features would kindle any latent cruelty in the Florentine men. She felt shouts of protest bubble up in her throat. But she didn’t open her mouth. She should intervene. She knew it. Evil flourished when good people walked by and said nothing. Raven kept walking. She was tired after a long day of work and an evening at Gina’s.

She was eager to return to her small, quiet flat on the Piazza Santo Spirito. All the same, she was conscious of Angelo’s cries and the laughter and cursing of the men. The largest man finished urinating with a flourish, returning himself to the confines of his jeans. Without warning, he lifted a booted foot and kicked Angelo in the ribs. He cried out in pain, slumping to the ground. Raven stopped. The other men joined in, kicking and cursing Angelo without regard to his screams. Blood poured from his mouth as he writhed on the sidewalk. “Stop!” The loud cry, in Italian, filled her ears. In an instant, she felt joy at the fact that someone, anyone, had come to Angelo’s rescue.

But her joy turned to horror when the men stopped and stared in her direction. “Stop,” she repeated, in a much quieter tone. The men exchanged glances and the largest one said something derisive to his companions. He stalked in her direction. As he approached, Raven could see he was broad shouldered and tall, his head shaven, his eyes dark. She resisted the urge to retreat. “Go.” The man waved at her dismissively. Raven’s green eyes darted behind him, to where Angelo was lying, curled into a ball. “Let me help him.

He’s bleeding.” The bald man looked over his shoulder to his companions. As if in defiance, one of them kicked Angelo in the stomach. Her friend’s cries filled her ears until finally and horribly, he fell silent. With a predatory smile, the bald man turned back to her. He pointed in the direction from which she’d approached. “Run.” Raven contemplated an attempt to reach Angelo’s side, but decided against it. There was no possibility of crossing the bridge to get home, either. The bald man blocked her path.

She began to back away, her gait unsteady. The man followed. He flailed his arms and dragged his right leg in an exaggerated impersonation of her walk. One of his companions shouted something about Quasimodo. Resisting the urge to tell the men that they were the true monsters, she turned around, struggling to move quickly. The sounds of hurried footsteps echoed in her ears. The man’s companions had left Angelo and were pursuing her. She heard one of them remark on how ugly she was—too ugly to fuck. The others laughed. One of them observed that she could be fucked from behind.

Then they wouldn’t have to see her face. Raven hobbled more quickly, searching in vain for a single pedestrian. The banks of the Arno appeared deserted. “Not so fast!” One man’s sarcasm was treated with laughter as they walked behind her. “Come, play with us,” another shouted. “She acts like she wants it.” Raven increased her pace, but they soon caught up with her, circling like wolves around an injured deer. “Now what?” the shortest of the three men asked, eyeing the others. “Now we play.” The bald man, who was evidently the ringleader, smiled at Raven.

He pulled the cane out of her hand, throwing it into the street. Someone else grabbed her knapsack, ripping it from her shoulder. “Give it back!” she shouted, lunging toward him. With glee, the man threw her knapsack to one of his companions, over her head. She made a move to retrieve it, but it was quickly thrown over her once again. The men played keep-away for several minutes, taunting and teasing while she begged them to return her bag. They could not have known this, but her passport and other important documents were in the knapsack. She couldn’t run. Her disability prevented her. She knew if she went for her cane, they would only pick it up and possibly throw it into the Arno.

She turned and began limping away from them, back toward the Ponte Vecchio. One of the men tossed her knapsack aside. “Grab her,” he said. Raven tried to move faster, but she was already limping as quickly as she could. The man followed, closing in on her in three steps. Frightened, she glanced over her shoulder. At that moment, her toe caught on a crack in the road and she stumbled. Pain lanced through her hands and arms as she tried to break her fall. The bald man approached and grabbed her by the hair. She cried out as he ripped the elastic from her ponytail.

Her long black hair fell around her shoulders. He pulled her to her feet, grabbing her hair and wrapping it around his hand. She scanned the area, trying to find a way of escape or someone to help her, but within seconds he was dragging her across the street and into an alley. The alley was so narrow she could almost span it with arms outstretched. She went limp, pitching forward intentionally. With a curse, he released her. Raven whimpered as she fell to her knees a second time, her hands scraped and bleeding. A stench filled her nostrils. Someone had used the alley as a toilet. She coughed, trying not to be sick.

The bald man grabbed her elbow and dragged her farther into the alley. “Get up,” he demanded. She tried to pull away, but he had hold of her elbow. She twisted, rolling to her side and kicking wildly. He cursed and she scrambled away, trying to get to her unsteady feet. Suddenly he loomed over her, grasping her arm and pulling her to face him. Without warning he punched her with a closed fist, breaking her glasses and her nose. Blood spurted, falling in great, fat droplets to the ground. She howled in pain, tearing the broken glasses from her face. Tears sprang from her eyes as she covered her face with her hand, fighting to breathe through her mouth.

The man yanked her to her feet. He pulled her by the hair and swung her against the wall. Raven saw stars, pain shooting from her forehead. The world spun and began to slow as two of the men pushed her chest against the wall, pinning her arms out to her sides. The ringleader stood behind her, his hands lifting her shirt. Roughly, his fingers climbed her naked skin until they closed over her bra. He squeezed her breasts, making a crude joke. His companions seemed to encourage him, but Raven was no longer able to understand the words they were saying. She felt as if she were underwater. Her head pounded and she gasped for air, trying not to choke on the blood that dripped down her throat.

The man unzipped his fly and pressed himself against her backside. His hand trailed to her waistband. With a flick of his fingers, he unbuttoned her jeans. She struggled as his hand slid into her pants. “Stop! Please. Please.”


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