As the glowing anima figures departed, Nic beckoned for Falken to approach the wall in the dying daylight, just beneath a crumbling statue of a gargoyle. This section bordered a derelict district, but they only had a small window to make it to the castle, and they still had the wards to contend with.
Moss and dirt flattened on the cobbles, shaped like bootprints heading toward her—and the hedge she crouched in. When she opened her eye beneath the eyepatch, his tall frame shone brightly, along with the bundle he carried.
It was awkward not having eye contact, but at least she could see him. In a way.
“What?” he whispered, his voice deep and low as the hedge leaves and branches crisped apart. “You’re giving me an odd look.”
“Shh,” she hissed back quietly. Not that there was anyone else nearby. But she wasn’t about to stammer her way through explaining an odd look.
She sniffed. Besides, time was short. She held out her hands.
From the inside of his cloak, he uncovered the bundled rabbit and held it out to her. To her natural eye, it was nothing at all. But to her eyepatch-covered eye, it was a fidgeting, nervous ball of light.
As she accepted the rabbit, its pudgy softness yielded in her hands, invisible though it was, until Falken let go. Nearly twenty pounds of rabbit landed in her arms, squirming.
A look at their surroundings, and there was no sign of anyone—or any anima.
Standing close to the wall, she secured the rabbit in her vest, then retrieved her grappling hook. The statue was crumbling, its grotesque face aged away, but the body and plinth still looked firm enough for the hook to wrap around and strong enough to hold her weight. Even with the pudgiest rabbit she’d ever seen.
About sixteen feet of rope for the wall, and three more for the statue. She wrapped the line into loose coils and held it slack in her free hand, then swung the hook by its line.
No time for second attempts. She’d have to make it in one.
With a quiet exhalation, she released the rope toward the statue.
Loops of line flowed from her hand with the force of the throw.
The hook soared over the statue and around—and caught.
“Yes!” Falken cheered softly, his word a puff of warmth by her ear.
Her grip firm, she pulled on the line to make sure the hook was secure, putting most of her weight on it. It would hold.
With another look to check the area—still clear—she began her ascent, ignoring the protests of her rabbit passenger. The stone was smooth, but she’d made climbs like this for well over a decade.
Finally, she planted her hands on the top of the wall, and tossed aside the line to Falken. There wouldn’t be much time to cling here, not if they didn’t want to get caught.
The line went taut—Falken climbing—while she looked through the earthsight eyepatch. Through the wall at the castle’s wide lawns of radiant spiky grasses.
The other side was still clear, not a soul in sight, but just inside the wall were thick ropes of braided starlight. The ward. She glanced back.
Invisible hands grasped the rope higher and higher, climbing just past her waist—
A screech. A crack. A crumble.
Part of the statue gave way and tumbled.
She swung an arm out as the hook clattered down the wall. Falken’s hand caught hers, the grappling hook disappearing. Her muscles strained, but the hold was solid.
Her arm was about to tear out of its socket. And Nox’s black breath, if anyone heard that clatter, she and Falken would be in the dungeon and screaming expletives by midnight.
Through the wall, two bright anima figures strolled in the garden.
Now. Of all Nox-forsaken times. Now.
Her grip on the wall faltered—
Sweat beading on her forehead, she glanced down at where Falken should be, nodded toward the wall, and then shook her head. She mouthed, “Two passing by.”
Her fingers were slipping from their hold. The rabbit wriggled and fidgeted, worming its way out of her vest. Could nothing cooperate?
The two figures leisurely walked by while her arm trembled like a twanged bowstring. They turned a corner, one’s arm patting the other’s back.
Come on, come on, come on—
The two figures finally disappeared into a building, just as voices carried from behind them. Clenching her jaw, she looked over her shoulder. No one yet, but there between two abandoned buildings, someone was coming.
A whoosh shot up past her, and a clang. Then a clatter. A bad throw of the grappling hook.
“Again,” she mouthed.
Her grip on the wall slipped, but she held on desperately.
Another whoosh, but this time, a scratch and a catch on the wall. On what point in particular—who knew?—but it had caught on something.
He scrambled up. While the other side was clear, Nic grabbed the top of the wall again with her strained arm and pulled herself up. Falken climbed behind her, and she held out the rabbit, who’d eaten food laced with just enough arcanir powder.
The ward of braided starlight severed, frayed ends blooming apart in threads of anima. She packed the fretting rabbit back into her vest, then as a grunt emerged from the top of the wall, she grabbed for the grappling hook and put it away.
Her hands on top of the wall, she hung down, then leaped free.
A squeal from the rabbit, but she released it. Pudginess and all, it scurried away.
If the guards had to find something, it would be that enormous ball of fluff.
Still clear. But with the ward broken, they’d only have a minute or two. A lawn stretching to the garden and the castle.
Long, sure-footed strides. Another ward flared around the garden, and another around the castle.
Damn. Her arcanir-weave clothes and cloak would break through all of it, but the Divine Guard would know intruders had broken in.
There was nothing to be done. She ran through the garden ward, then the castle ward, breaking both, then swung her grappling hook’s line for a toss to the third-story window’s shutters. It caught.
The Contarini maps had marked the window as that of a guest room… one that looked empty of anima.
Distant shouts broke the garden’s quiet. No time to waste. She scrambled up the old white marble, pulling up to the frame. She pushed a panel open—unlatched.
Finally, at least one thing that cooperated.
No anima in the room. She climbed in as the grappling hook shifted. Falken.
More shouts outside—she couldn’t keep the window open or they’d be discovered. But if a single geomancer used earthsight, Falken would be revealed.
The slap of boots on the parquet floor and a scrape of the hook, then she shut the window just as the voices boomed in the garden.
No, not just the garden.
She glared at the door, behind which barked orders neared.
Grabbing for Falken, she rushed next to the bed and clad them both in her arcanir-weave cloak before crouching down. Inside the fabric, the arcanir wasn’t in contact with her body. Hopefully it would keep them obfuscated from earthsight, while Shade discouraged attention. Careful to give Shade room to function, she kept her finger past the cloak.
Four sets of boots pounded down the hallway. She readied two arcanir throwing knives.