Chapter 3: Finishing the Job

    Even if Nora had given in to temptation and taken a look behind her, it would have done her no good. Whether the nobles were near or far, whether the guard came through the window or the door, her plan remained the same. Evade. Run away. Don’t get caught.

    She could hear boots stomping on the front porch’s wooden slats below her as orders and shouts of fierce women and men shattered the lull of falling raindrops.

    ‘That guard from the Lady’s room is only one of my problems. There’s at least ten more waiting for me to mess up.’ The rest of the guards had been alerted.

    Using her magic could buy Nora some time, but she couldn’t only worry about time. There was also real danger in having the guards alerted. Besides blades, many likely possessed magic of their own.

    Nearly all nobles made sure to employ at least a few mages, and since the Taeguns were dripping with wealth, Nora was willing to bet they had hired a lot more than a few.

    Confirming her assumption, several blinding white balls of light shot up into the air and illuminated the outside of the mansion and its numerous gardens. No shadows were left to hide in, and to make the situation worse, the door to the balcony flew open.

    Going back down the trellis was out of the question. It ended too close to the front porch, but staying on the balcony would result in capture in a matter of seconds.

    Someone else’s boots sloshed on the wet tile floor near Nora, emphasizing her need to move, but she needed time that she didn’t have to form a plan. 

    So, Nora did the only thing she could that wouldn’t result in her immediate death or apprehension; she shoved the ring in one of her trousers’ pockets, pounced from the balcony onto the trellis, and climbed straight up to the roof of the luxurious mansion.

    The sweet scent of honeysuckle reminded her that she should’ve examined the house properly days before she attempted the heist and found a better escape route than a honeysuckle-covered trellis that descended close to the front door.

    To her relief, the owner of the thudding boots did not hop onto the trellis after her. ‘Poor man,’ she thought sarcastically. ‘If he weren’t so weighed down with muscle, he could’ve joined me on the roof for some rainy-night cloud gazing. His loss.’ 

    Proving that she was right — that the guard knew better than to climb the lattice, heavy footsteps could be heard retreating inside the mansion. Victoriously, she chuckled, but the sound was drowned out as the sky dumped more water on her.

    Rain rushed down in a hurry, much faster than before, and Nora’s feet repeatedly slipped on the roof’s shingles after reaching the top of the trellis. She hauled herself onto the roof. Her hood was soaked, and heavy locks of her hair clung to her neck, forehead, and jawline beneath the thick fabric.

    She crawled in a crouch with her hands down on the shingles to avoid slipping. With much effort, Nora reached the roof’s peak and held on as tightly as possible while the urgency of her situation became clear. There were too many guards. Way too many.

    Her mind raced with frightening scenes of her capture. ‘This can’t be happening. It can’t be,’ Nora deluded herself. The chaotic panic zipping through Nora’s veins worsened when an unknown woman’s stern voice exclaimed, “She’s on the roof! Where’s the ladder!?”

    Nora knew she couldn’t linger any longer on the roof, but there was nowhere to go except down into the mess of guards. Carefully, she raised her feet and balanced on the roof’s peak.

    In a last-ditch effort, she then used her magic. Purple mist poured from her outward-facing palms, and she quickly moved her hands as if she were sloppily shaping clay.

    A perfect copy of herself formed in front of her eyes. Wearing a permanent frown, the illusion stared blankly at Nora, who whispered to it in an extension of her magic, “Lead them away from here!” then slammed a pointed finger toward the side of the house closest to an outcrop of trees.

    The trees were far away, but it wasn’t a wild idea that she’d go there. The guards would assume she’d run for cover, so it was the perfect place to send her copy.

    The Taeguns owned not only their exorbitant mansion but many acres of cropland. ‘If only this house were surrounded by others in the city, but no, they just had to have privacy. Holed up out here alone, you’d think they had something to hide. Well, I suppose they did, but not anymore.’

    While there were a few other buildings, such as the servants’ quarters, barracks, and stables, Nora knew those buildings would provide her with no permanent shelter. Even if she used them to break the guards’ line of sight, they would first look into the surrounding buildings.

    That meant the buildings were useless except to cause a distraction. ‘Another distraction could be exactly what I need. It would buy me enough time to get on the road.’ The open road was a problem for future Nora.

    A cacophony of voices filled the air as her illusion unnaturally dropped down the trellis and tumbled toward the ground. It wouldn’t be long before they found out the thief they were chasing was a fake. 

    ‘All it takes is the warm touch of a living being to destroy what I’ve created,’ Nora thought grimly, so she peeled her eyes away from the scene despite wanting to know how far her illusion would make it before being dispelled.

    Once again focused on escaping impending doom, Nora slowly pushed her legs out in front of her, planted her bottom on the side of the roof she hadn’t just climbed up, and gripped the peak with her hand.

   Then, she let go and slid down the backside of the house.

   The edge was quickly approaching. Nora’s momentum was much too fast, so she flipped over onto her stomach with her palms flat against the slick shingles beneath her.

    Continuing her slide, she felt the shingles on her skin until her body reached the end of the roof. There was only air on all sides of her legs, then her waist, and finally her arms as she fell from the roof.

    With fingers extended like claws, she clutched the edge of the roof. One hand slipped, and her breath hitched. With dread-widened eyes, she brought the loose hand back up to grab the roof’s edge, then took a moment to search for a way down.

    On her right was a balcony on the third floor, which was pretty far away. She’d have to shimmy to reach it. That might take too long, and she could lose her hold again.

    To the left, a roof was probably covering a back porch, but it was on the second floor. 

    ‘Both of those options are terrible. I can feel the restraints on my wrist already.’ Nora knew guards would be at the doors, and she didn’t fancy dropping to the second floor, especially onto a sloping roof in the rain.

   Directly below her position was a tall hedge. 

    ‘If I land in that bush, it might break my fall. Some strained muscles and a fracture or two is better than a life behind bars.’ 

 It was a considerable risk to drop 3 stories, but it was a risk Nora wasn’t wholly against.

    “There’s another thief back here!” barked a guard from below and to her left.

    With no time left for planning, Nora quickly decided to shimmy to the third-story balcony. ‘If I make it there, I’ll drop down onto the balcony below and leap to the ground. They’ll get to witness a show of my talent for free. That’s a shame. I wish I had time to lift some coins from their pockets.’

    Everywhere, guards were communicating about Nora’s position, and the doors of the balcony she was heading for suddenly rattled open. A mountain of a man, the same one who chased her onto the balcony from Lady Myrtle’s room, watched her with an amused smirk.

    Nora scowled back at him and lost focus, endangering her precarious hold on the roof. One of her hands slipped again. His smirk only widened.

    ‘That smirk– I’d kick it off his mouth if I could. Obviously, he thinks he’s won. What arrogance! I’ll have to deflate that ego.’

    The guard did believe he’d won. He extended toward Nora, motioned toward himself with his other hand, beckoning her to shimmy closer so he could help her down– right into his ensnaring arms to arrest her.

    Defiance raged inside Nora. She would not allow some taunting man to help her into chains. Once more, she looked down as if calculating the distance to the ground when she spied something that might save her.

    Nora’s tense face relaxed slightly, and she flashed the arrogant guard a mocking smile. 

    Unexpectedly, she dropped her other hand from the roof’s edge. Slick cobblestones slipped across her palms and bare toes as she purposely slid down the wall.

    Seconds passed, and then her fingers snagged a large, protruding stone in the wall. Pain shot from her fingers to her wrists at the impact, but she clenched her jaw and suffered through it without a whimper.

    Once more, she glanced down. She was much closer to the ground now. Taking a deep breath, she let go of the stone, used her toes against the wall to lightly turn her body away from the wall, and tumbled into a roll and onto the muddy ground below. The fall might hurt, but it wouldn’t do any severe harm.

    Without a second to catch her breath, she hopped up and began dashing away from the house. Searing red and orange lights flared behind her. Heat scorched her right side, nearly burning her, but the mage that had hurled the fire bolt narrowly missed.

   “NO MORE FIRE!” roared the guard that had smirked at her. Just as he ordered, the fire bolts stopped immediately, and the alarming flares at the edges of Nora’s vision were extinguished.

   A couple of loud thuds sounded from behind her. The commanding guard must have dropped from the third-story balcony to the second-story one beneath it and then the ground. Another set of loud, squishy footfalls began to chase after her.

   ‘So, they won’t kill me,’ she realized, but the guards’ refusal to take her life only meant she was in a different kind of danger, arguably a more painful one. 

     She’d be interrogated if her freedom was stolen, and if she let any information about the Wraiths slip, she was as good as dead anyway. Of course, not before the guild tortured her for her inadequacy.

   ‘Even if I have to humiliate myself, I’m getting out of here.’ Even without her life on the line, pride wouldn’t allow her to lose. She would run as long and far as she needed to. 

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