Honor Among Thieves: Part Six
Marlos turned around very slowly to see Lady Marcia standing in the door, wearing a silk dress and holding a drawn sword. Her eyes widened when she saw him, and then narrowed – the look on her face was positively murderous. "I would have thought you'd have more sense than to sneak around here, Marlos. Do you relish the title of thief?"
Dom stood straight and tall. "Thief's a sight more honest than traitor. Wouldn't you say?"
Marcia snarled, "And you add this ragged parade of urchins to your crimes – Marlos, I wouldn't even need my mage's help to bring you down after this. If I had the patience to handle bureaucracy, at least."
Marlos could tell that the Scarabs were all tense, ready to head for the windows and out. Nabile was in front of him, shielding the side where he wore his money pouch – he slipped the parchment and the potions in there as subtly as he could. It was difficult – his heart was racing, and he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from Marcia's furious face. A dim corner of his mind wondered if this was more mage trickery. Would it be possible for Marcia to cast a spell on him to hypnotize him, or did the mage have to be there himself?
And then Dom barked, "Now!"
The moment was over, the spell broken. Marlos dived for the closest window, taking to wing, and the Scarabs were every bit as quick. They scattered in all directions – Marlos was with Nabile and Tomos, who scrambled out the same window he did. They moved more quickly than even the lady knight could have reacted to, but the Lupe started shouting, "Thief! Thief! Thief!"
Tomos urged, "Run! Run! Run!"
The Scarabs swarmed out the windows like a gaggle of Scamanders – if they were lucky, they'd be out of here before Marcia's yells could bring the guards.
Dom shouted as they started to reach the ground, "Regroup back at the hideout! Scatter now!"
Marlos said to Nabile and Tomos, flying down to just over their heads, "Follow me – we'll go out the tradesmen's gate!" It was certain to be locked, but it was by the most uninteresting areas of the palace, so it was also unlikely to be magically guarded or to sport especially alert watchmen. The Ixi and Lupe would probably be able to climb that wall as easily as they had every other thus far.
It was dark, and the desert plants and statuary that filled the palace grounds did nothing for the visibility – they cast strange shadows, and Marlos was keyed up enough already to picture a guard standing in every one of them. But Tomos and Nabile used the shadows as cover, and Marlos soon landed in order to follow their examples. While he saw a few people walking around, they weren't noticed. Marlos kept close to the children, and they moved quickly and in silence, only talking in order for Marlos to give them directions.
Tomos took the lead – he was the bolder of the two by far, though while Nabile's eyes were wide and she was clearly tense, she didn't let it stop her from moving as soundlessly as a Mauket. Marlos knew he hadn't been that brave at her age. He wasn't sure if he was really that brave now – he kept thinking about what might happen if the guards managed to catch them, or some of the other Scarabs. But he'd chosen this path, and he had to walk it.
Nabile whispered, "Is it much farther?" Marlos noted with dismay that she'd torn her dress up one side. When had that happened? He really had no idea. And, what's more, she had put on her trousers underneath, but merely been quieter about it than Zina had been. He sighed – she was well-spoken, but she was quite clearly a street urchin to the very bone. He replied, "Not much – and I don't hear any alarm horns. We might have beaten the guards."
Tomos hissed. "Nuria keep it so – don't talk like that or they're certain to be there!"
Once they reached the gate, Marlos sighed in relief. There were two guards on the ground, but they were standing next to each other and sharing what looked to be a jug of coffee. Tomos pointed at the dark place between two torches, and Marlos took to the air as the two Scarabs ran across the flagstones. He kept as low as he dared so he could help them if they needed him.
Tomos was on top of the wall, and Nabile was right behind him, when one of the guards looked up. Marlos's heart skipped a beat as the Lupe guard shouted, "Hey! Who goes there?"
Tomos threw himself up and over – Marlos dived down as Nabile climbed up behind him, held on with one hand, and then let herself fall. The Draik winced. The wall wasn't more than twelve feet or so here, but that couldn't possibly have been fun.
The Lupe called, "Stay where you are!" He could hear the sounds of them fumbling with the gate. But on the ground beside the wall, Nabile was kneeling beside Tomos, whose face was tight and pale with pain. He said through clenched teeth, "Landed on my foot like I'd never climbed a wall before. I don't think my ankle's broken, but I turned it pretty good."
Marlos helped him up – he didn't weight all that much. He wasn't strong enough to carry Tomos while he flew, but he could help the boy, as long as they knew where they were going, and they didn't have much time for that. The Draik's heart was racing again as he asked Nabile, "Do you have any ideas? Any place where we could go?"
She nodded. "Let's go!"
They had to move stealthily – Nabile took them through dark side streets and alleys, twisting and turning, as the moon rose higher and Marlos began to hear alarm horns blaring from the Palace. Tomos grinned a little. "Not a bad night's work for a pack of Scarabs, huh, Nabile?"
Nabile smiled a little in return, and said, "It's not much further now, Marlos."
Tomos's eyes widened. "You're taking us to the old hideout!"
Nabile nodded and explained, "The guards ran us out of there six months ago. Why would they look for us somewhere they already found us? And it's a lot closer to the Palace than any of our other places were."
Tomos nodded. "Some rogue Fire Faerie a moron trapped in a bottle got loose on the street, and it all got blocked off because of the fire damage. Nice place, though. Had two rooms, even, and a water pump right outside the door."
Marlos remembered hearing about that. And then he realized that the night air carried a faint undertone of char – they had to be close.
He and Nabile had to both help Tomos climb a barricade at the entrance to a narrow street – the poor Lupe was almost on the verge of collapse. From there, they went up a narrow stair, which gave Tomos even more trouble, and found a small apartment that still smelled a little burnt as well. Marlos was too tired to care about how dirty it was. As long as it was enclosed, he was ready to go straight to sleep on the dusty floor.
But Nabile said, "We need to see to Tomos – we need to bind his ankle."
Tomos winced. "This is going to stink."
Nabile took out a small knife and immediately set to cutting strips from her dress, which she tied tightly around her friend's ankle while the Lupe gritted his teeth and winced. Marlos looked away – he'd never had any stomach for injuries. He couldn't keep his eyes on anything more severe than a paper cut.
He hoped the others had gotten out safely. And what for – a scrap of parchment and a few vials of poison? It was definitely suspicious evidence, but Marlos didn't think it was enough. He'd thought that they'd had more time. None of them had expected Marcia to return that early. But if Marlos walked up to a guard and tried to show them this, they'd laugh – before they clapped him in irons as a thief and had him thrown in the dungeons.
He looked back toward the two thieves – the job was done, and Tomos had already laid back and shut his eyes. The boy slept like a stone. But Nabile was looking at him sadly. She said, "That's not enough to accuse Marcia with, is it? Not for a random guard."
Marlos sighed. "And the day after tomorrow is the Solstice Celebration. With every noble in all of Sakhmet's lands at the Palace, finding the assassin will be like finding a needle in a haystack."
Nabile slammed her hand down on the floor. "We've got to do something! We didn't come this far so we could just sit here and do nothing!" And then her purple eyes lit up. "We snuck in once. Why couldn't we sneak in again? Get past the guards and go straight to the king?"
Marlos was about to dismiss the idea as ridiculous... but then he thought about it. "It'll show we're fairly serious, if we went to those lengths to warn him – and he'll naturally want to investigate any claims about attempts against his life. They might be able to find more evidence on their own, especially if they look into that Krawk mage."
Nabile nodded. "We can do it. We really can."
If what was supposed to be a fairly straightforward raid of Marcia's rooms could go wrong, trying to get to the king himself was likely to be nothing short of disaster. But the skinny little street girl was right. Marlos had come this far already – and because of it, Tomos was sleeping off the pain of a twisted ankle. Marlos owed it to Tomos, and to all the Scarabs, to see this through.
So he smiled at Nabile, and shook her hand once, decisively. She beamed at him as he said, "Yes, I think we can."
To be continued...