Meckaal skidded to a halt, breathing heavily. His muscles ached, unable to propel him any further through the wet streets. Rain continued to fall, spilling over the edge of the gutters in waterfalls, before hitting the cobblestones below in fat, heavy raindrops.
The stars were not out tonight, the rainclouds were too thick for Meckaal to pray to the gods this evening.
Tonight he was on his own.
Meckaal skidded to a start again, running down the allyway in long strides. He could hear the clatter of swords rattling in their sheathes a few streets down, his assailants weren’t too far behind.
He needed safety. He needed to get to the roofs.
The buildings on either side of the street rose up high into the sky, windows all shuttered against the cold night. Some believed that the night time was when the demons rose up from the ground, ready to eat the humans in their sleep. It was a ridiculous story, demons’ didn’t exist.
Apart from the ones in your head, he reminded himself.
“I’ve found him!” a voice shouted. Meckaal glanced over his shoulder, only to see the shadows of his assailants flickering off the edge of the building. He could hear the guard’s armour clattering above the noise of the rain. It was only the weight of the armour that gave Meckaal the advantage, his aged limbs unable to run any faster.
He continued to run, not looking behind him.
Meckaal ducked on instinct as the crossbow bolt went flying into the stone building on his right. It was a warning shot – give up now or the next bolt will be in your back.
Meckaal didn’t intend of giving the guards that chance. What he had stolen belonged to him, belonged to his family, and he wasn’t giving it up without a fight. Just because the Policymaker had too much entitlement and too little brain to try and take what did not belong to him wasn’t Meckaal’s fault.
He was just righting a wrong.
Meckaal dived into a short alleyway, one of the many dead ends in the maze of streets that made up the city. He didn’t stop running, instinct guiding his hands and feet as he leapt off the top of a bin, jumping to the opposite wall and grabbing the small handholds in the brickwork.
It took him barely ten heartbeats to reach the rooftops.
“Where did the bastard go?” one of the guard’s shouted. Meckaal knew that voice, it belonged to Beini Meetra, the head of the city watch.
One of Meckaal’s childhood friends.
Used to be my friend, Meckaal thought, as he scrambled across the rooftops. He and Beini had taken different paths in lives long ago, Beini had used the Guards to get off the streets. Meckaal had used thievery and wit to make a name for himself.
Meckaal balanced easily on the narrow top of the roof, feet easily finding their footing on the wet tiles. It was a habit one had to pick up early on in their thieving career if they wanted to stay alive, no matter what the weather you had to be able to use the roofs.
A crossbow bolt flew past Meckaal’s face, making him skid to a stop and look down into the alley way. He was doubling back upon his previous route, and now in the clear firing line for the Guards’ crossbows.
Pits, Meckaal swore, as he took off again. He would have to make the infamous Thieves’ Jump without the required run up. He could see it approaching, the large gap between the houses on his left which was purposely chosen by the thieves to ensure a successful escape. It meant even if the guards did manage to get onto the roofs, the Thieves Jump would ensure they got no further.
Heart racing wildly, Meckaal allowed his training to guide him through the jump. It was one of those hurdles that it helped not to think as you did it, otherwise you would screw it up. Meckaal had heard stories of those who failed the jump, plummeting three stories towards the cold cobbled road below and being very much dead.
“Catch him!” Beini shouted, voice screeching across the constant hammering of water on the roofs, “don’t let him get away!”
The guards followed their commander’s order, and a barrage of bolts came flying towards Meckaal. He continued to run, the guards were infamous amongst the thieving community for their poor shots, especially in poor weather.
It was why Meckaal had chosen this night to rob the Policymaker, he had a higher chance of getting away.
Thieves’ Jump closed upon him suddenly, giving Meckaal the familiar rush of vertigo that he had felt when he had first completed the jump. However, his fear was now his ally as it made him push harder, push further, completing jobs that no one else could manage.
Now, he thought, turning suddenly in order to keep his momentum as fast as possible. He had to take the jump at an angle, instead of straight on like he had been taught by Mistress Neiw nearly fifty years ago.
His feet easily cleared the distance, lungs breathing heavy as he leapt cleanly into the air. For a moment, Meckaal felt like he hung in the air totally stationary. From up here, the city spread out below, sprawling across the land in a mix of stone and wooden buildings. It was the true testament of humanity, how something as incredible as this could rise from the very pits of hell itself.
There was a reason the inhabitants of the city called it ‘The Pits’.
Meckaal was broken from his thoughts as he landed on the other side of Thieves’ Jump, rolling smoothly to avoid his bones shattering under the impact.
“YOU BASTARD!” Beini’s voice screamed across the night, “I’LL CATCH YOU MECKAAL!”
“No you won’t,” Meckaal whispered in reply, as he scampered across the roofs to safety, “you will never beat me. Ever.”
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