Tahl would have loved to have his heist clothing.
He could still climb walls and leap rooftops without it, but the close-fitting navy blue outfit had come to be as much a part of the Ghost’s image as his scar. Some tiny, vain part of him had considered having his emblem added to his ensemble somehow. Perhaps not to his clothing, as it would have been foolish to add anything that stood out from the dark fabric, but maybe a scarf. Or a symbol on his bag. Right now, it would have been useful. Something, anything more that made his identity obvious would have been.
Instead, he had to hope his scar would be enough.
Tahl rubbed the cuff of his sleeve against his cheek as he bounded across the gap to another roof. The last traces of wax came free, and he threw himself into a sprint.
The guards had disappeared around a corner somewhere ahead. He had to find a way to cut them off, separate them from Niada long enough for her to make an escape.
Angry voices rose from the city below and he veered toward them, ignoring the instinct to keep quiet. Tahl breathed deep as he dashed across the rough wooden roof tiles of the poorer district they were in. They were easier to keep his footing on and he pushed ahead.
He knew every inch of Orrad by now. Just ahead lay a handful of shops—a perfect place for a distraction. From the sound of it, that was where Nia had gone.
Hope this means you have a plan. Tahl ran through his memories of which shops were where, then adjusted his course. When he reached the last roof before the wide shopping avenue, he slowed and gripped the roof’s edge to swing down with as much force as he could muster. His heels struck the shop’s glass display window and crashed through.
A chorus of shrieks rose as he swung back and released the roof. He landed lightly on the cobblestone street as broken glass hit the ground and splintered. The jeweler had already appeared on the other side of the window, his face distraught.
“I need to borrow this, sorry,” Tahl called as he seized a fistful of jewels from the display and spun to scan the streets.
More cries went up through the shoppers nearby when he turned. “It’s him!” a woman screamed.
“The Ghost!” a man added.
Tahl fought not to cringe. Thieving in broad daylight wasn’t his style, and the number of eyes that turned toward him was uncomfortable. But at the far end of the street, he caught the gleam of armor as a pair of guards turned back his direction.
A pang of regret struck him like a punch to the stomach.
It’s part of the plan, he told himself as he took two hopping steps backwards and raised his stolen jewelry overhead. “I’ll bring these back, promise!”
From the obscenities the jeweler shouted at him through the broken window, he didn’t believe it.
Before the man could make it through the door, Tahl ducked between a handful of startled shoppers and raced toward the oncoming guards. He’d barely taken a few steps before they were close enough for him to recognize them and be certain they were the guards after Nia. The fine hairs on the back of his neck prickled and an unpleasant shudder tore down his spine. Racing toward guards in broad daylight was another thing he didn’t do, but here he was, cutting straight toward them and praying they didn’t call for reinforcements.
Tahl had expected to see Nia somewhere past them, but she was nowhere to be seen. That better mean you got away. He skidded on the cobbles to keep from crashing into someone, then cut toward a side street.
He crashed into Nia, instead.
“Hey!” she cried as she tumbled to the ground. Tahl sprang over the top of her to keep from tripping, then spun back to offer her a hand.
She blinked at the gold laced between his fingers.
“Come on!” he snapped.
Setting her jaw, Nia grabbed his wrist and let him help her up. Then they both darted into the narrow street. “I don’t need you to save me,” she said, the edge in her voice sharper than the window’s broken glass.
“Really? It looked to me like you were headed for the gallows!” He slapped her arm to get her attention and veered into a narrow alley. A few steps in, he kicked off the wall and started his vertical ascent, bounding back and forth between the close buildings.
She followed, but grunted and struggled to keep up. “You climb like a squirrel.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that.” He swung onto a roof and leaned down to offer his hand. When she took it, he hauled her up and then glanced at the jewelry that still decorated his hand.
Nia nodded toward it. “What’s that for?”
“Getting the attention of the guards. Come on, we have to keep moving.” He backed up a few paces and took a running start to leap to the next building over. Nia landed next to him with a quiet thump. Before he could offer any directions, she lit off on her own.
“Where are you going?” Tahl called after her, uncomfortably aware of the noise of the city growing louder in the street below. They wouldn’t have long to gain a head start.
“The docks!” Nia shouted back. “You still have it?”
Tahl was beginning to regret taking the knife. He nodded once and took a step forward, only for a crossbow bolt to thud into the rooftop at his toes.
“Archers,” he breathed. “Perfect.”