“You’re going to do what?” Nia squeaked.
“To give it back,” Tahl repeated. “It’s pretty obvious you don’t know what you have, here.”
She hurried to match his longer strides. “Some kind of cursed blade that’s out for my blood?”
The suggestion was so odd he had to stop and squint at her. He certainly hadn’t felt that in that single shot of magic that lanced up his arm, but he also hadn’t taken the time to analyze what it had done. Whatever it was, it hurt, and that was enough for him to conclude the knife wasn’t worth the trouble.
A sheepish look flitted over her face. She opened her mouth to say something, but he silenced her with a wave of his hand.
“You can’t just fence magic items,” he explained as he ducked into an alley so narrow, he could hardly walk without his shoulders brushing the walls. Slim as he was, he could fit into almost every nook and cranny he’d run across in Orrad. But he wasn’t done growing. He couldn’t count on every passage being easy to traverse forever. The stablemaster back in his home city of Ashor had sworn he would fill out in his early twenties, when his shoulders widened and he started growing a man’s muscle. Or, that was what the stablemaster had called it.
Tahl took a longer step over a pile of rat droppings and forced his thoughts back to the task at hand. “Imbued items aren’t common. Especially not weapons. No merchant will touch them, and if I’m being honest, this isn’t pretty enough to keep in my collection. Think you can identify the mark again if you see him in the city?”
Nia tucked in her chin and rubbed her arms, as if the thought alone was unpleasant. “He’s hard to miss. I wish I’d chickened out when it crossed my mind.”
It wasn’t like her to confess such feelings. Nia was a cautious thief, but once she picked a mark, she could be brash. Tahl raised a brow, though he didn’t say anything, lest she clam up.
She went on unprompted. “He was creepy. I didn’t realize it until I was right up on him, but something about that guy was weird.”
“So in other words, you’ll gladly point him out so I can put this back in his pockets,” Tahl said.
Reluctant, she nodded. After a moment, curiosity claimed her expression. “You think it’ll be that easy?”
“Pickpocketing works backwards, too. I’m just as adept at planting things on people as getting things off them.” He stopped at the end of the alley to peek into the roadway. People flowed past without noticing him, distracted by their own business. Satisfied, Tahl waited for a gap to slip into the throng.
“There she is!” someone cried behind him.
Tahl spun on his heel. Nia yelped and bolted past him as a pair of guards he swore hadn’t been there a moment ago burst from the crowds.
Biting back a curse, he put himself in their path at the last moment.
One of the guards plowed straight into him, bowling him to the ground. The other tripped over the two of them and landed hard on the cobblestones.
“Hey!” Tahl protested, struggling to remove himself from the tangle of limbs.
The larger of the two guards—the one who had tripped—planted a hand on his face and shoved him down.
“Brant’s bloody branches,” the other guard spat as he freed himself and staggered to his feet.
Tahl curled up on the cobbles with a groan, covering his face with one arm. He didn’t think the wax covering the scar on his face had come loose, but if it had, it would make putting himself in a guard’s path the most dangerous thing he could have done.
Yet the guards never looked his way again after they were back on their feet. The one he’d entangled stepped over Tahl’s legs and marched onward in search of Nia, without looking back.
Tahl unfurled himself slowly and peeked out from between his fingers. Under the guise of shielding his face out of fear, he probed the wax over his scar to ensure it was intact before he lowered his hand. He watched as the guards disappeared around a corner, momentarily unsure what to do.
Nia had nothing on her now. The knife was still on him. Even if they caught her, they had no evidence to support the claim she’d stolen something.
Unless, of course, they took her before her mark and had him identify her.
That was another problem. He could roam the streets all day, but without Nia at his side, he had no hope of finding the target. It was just as easy for him to abandon the knife somewhere; the blade meant nothing to him. But if the guards caught Nia and she was identified as a thief…
Tahl halted that thought before it could go any farther. “For the love of leaves,” he muttered as he pushed himself up. There was no avoiding it. He retreated back into the alleyway and peeled the wax from his scar.
If anyone could draw attention off Nia long enough for her to escape, it would be the Ghost.