compatriots, now wearing masks pulled over their faces, locked in combat with…

With Rittier's servants?!

Except that even as she watched, the servants revealed themselves for who and what they really were. She saw hidden weapons appear from within their dull-colored uniforms. Blades, yes, but also “bash-bangs”-flintlocks with stocks of brass rather than wood, weighted to function as brutal head-breakers just as efficiently as they did pistols.

And they were carried exclusively by the City Guard.

Well, if nothing else, it explained why those people were so bad at actually serving food, didn't it?

It made sense, too, after Widdershins thought about it for a moment. If the thieves could figure out that Rittier's party made for the most tempting target in months, it wasn't that surprising that the Guard could come up with the same idea.

It also left the young thief in something of an ugly quandary.

“Yeah,” she said absently as Olgun resumed encouraging her to depart with some vague semblance of haste. “But Squirrel and the guys know that I showed up here. If I vanish and they get nabbed by the Guard, who do you think they'll suspect of selling them out? Give you three guesses. What? No, they don't have to prove it was me! Just the suspicion would be enough to make my life…Oh, rats.” She winced at the thunder of a brass flintlock, watched as the first of the thieves fell, his left shoulder shattered by the ball.

“All right, Olgun,” she sighed. “Hold on. I don't know, whatever it is you normally hold on to!” Then, unwilling to waste any further time in argument, she burst into motion.

One hand yanked her own hood up over her head; not as good as a mask, but hopefully sufficient to hide her features in the chaos of what was to come. An elbow shattered the glass of the expensive window (Olgun scrambling to keep the shards from drawing blood), and then she was inside.

Two of the Guardsmen-those who hadn't already discharged their pistols-fired at the dark figure that suddenly appeared before them, but Widdershins was already dropping to the floor. The two balls sailed high over her head, missing even without Olgun's extra nudge. She landed in a crouch atop the heavy table and leapt again, once more clearing a height impossible for any mortal athlete, let alone a girl of her size. At the apex of her abbreviated flight, her fingers closed around a thick cloth of darkest green. The banner boasting the red petals of Ruvelle went taut, and then ripped free from its anchor, unable to support even Widdershins's slight weight.

But then, she'd never intended it to.

“Olgun…” It was the lightest whisper as she dropped, coming down on one knee, both palms pressed flat on the floor. She hadn't time to explain what she wanted, but then, she didn't need to. She felt the familiar tingle of the god exercising what power he had, and the enormous hanging twisted as it fell.

Twisted so that, impossible as it seemed, it landed atop all four of the disguised Guardsmen. It wouldn't hurt them-though the bruises on their pride wouldn't fade for quite some time-but they were effectively blind and helpless, if only briefly.

“Run!” she hissed at her fellow Finders. “Get out!”

“But…but our score!” one of them protested-whined, really.

“You think these are the only constables here, you idiot? They were waiting for you!” She pointed imperiously at the injured man. “Get him and get!”

They got, hauling their companion upright and vanishing through the doorway to the front hall.

And, as though in answer to Widdershins's prediction, another door-this one across the ballroom and leading deeper into the house-flew open as though shot. Through it marched another pair of Guardsmen, these two in full uniform: black tabards emblazoned with the silver fleur-de-lis, equally black plumed hat, and medallions showing the silver face of Demas, patron god of the Guard.

One, blond with a goatee, was a stranger to her. But the other, with hair and mustache of rich brown, she recognized all too well.

“Oh, no…” She was sprinting, despite an ankle made slightly wobbly by the earlier drop, before she might be recognized in turn.

There were few in the city, and none in the Guard, who knew her face as well as Major Julien Bouniard. She'd always been sure she'd never call one of the Guard a friend, but Julien was starting to challenge that certainty.

Unless, of course, he identified her as part of the group of thieves who'd invaded the home of the Marquis de Ducarte, at which point, she was fairly sure, any burgeoning friendship would end with the slamming of a cell door.

From the sound of things, as best she could tell in the thumping, pounding tumult, only a couple of them were following her as she fled. Probably, she guessed, Julien and his other uniformed friend. The other Guardsmen, the ones disguised as servants, were either still flailing about beneath the banner or, more probably, had taken off in pursuit of the other escaping thieves.

Well, Julien was good, no doubt of that. And while Widdershins didn't know the man with him, she had to assume the major had chosen only good people to work with him on this. Nevertheless, the day she couldn't outrun two Guardsmen was the day she deserved to be arrested.

She pulled streamers off the wall as she passed, shoved over the occasional chair or unlit candelabra, hoping to tangle the feet of her pursuers. Again, it wasn't that she doubted she could stay ahead of them, but why take the chance that they'd come close enough for a clear shot? She took a small flight of stairs in a single leap and found herself nearing one of the manor's side doors, presumably meant for deliveries and servants. It hung open before her, and Widdershins found herself wondering briefly if some of Squirrel's gang might have already used it as an escape route. Not that it mattered; a few more steps and she'd be…

Olgun's cry of alarm warned her a split second before the much more human grunt of pain would have. She twisted in the doorway, slouched uncomfortably so she could keep the hood over her face, and gasped at the scene playing out before her.

Two of Squirrel's thieves-she could tell, even with the masks, that they were not part of the group whom she'd helped escape-were closing in from behind the pursuing Guardsmen. The blond constable she didn't know had staggered back against the wall, his right arm bleeding freely from an ugly gash across the bicep, his bash-bang having fallen to the floor at his feet, discharging its payload harmlessly into the wall when it hit. Even as his face paled with pain, he struggled to draw his rapier, however awkwardly, with his left hand.

Julien himself had dropped into an expert duelist's stance. Widdershins wasn't certain what had happened to his own firearm; he held his rapier unerringly straight, but he was having more than a little difficulty trying to cover both opponents at once.

No, not both. All three. Even as Widdershins watched, Squirrel himself-a deep bruise creeping across the lower half of his face like a fistful of grape jelly-stepped from a side passage to join the others.

“You're losing your touch, Olgun,” she muttered softly. “Well, of course your touch! I mean, you know that I can't hit that hard….”

Squirrel growled something unintelligible, drew his stiletto with his left hand-and with his right, produced what could only be Julien's own flintlock! Widdershins couldn't begin to guess when or how he'd gotten his hands on it, but then, he was a thief, after all. That's what he did.

Except now he was about to become not just a thief, but a Guard-murderer.

And Widdershins couldn't afford to worry about her own escape any longer.


A flash of divine power, a spark from nowhere, and the bash-bang discharged before Simon could pull the trigger, while he was still bringing the weapon up to fire. The ball shot past Julien, ruffling the edge of his tabard rather than punching through flesh and bone, and gouged an ugly hole in the wall behind him.

Multiple astonished stares flickered to the disobedient weapon, and in that moment, Widdershins struck. Her own rapier-currently lacking its defensive wire basket so that the hilt could lie flush against her back-was now out and moving. The thug to Squirrel's left screamed and dropped to one knee, clutching at an arm that was now bleeding far more fiercely than the wounded Guardsman's.

Squirrel and the remaining thief spun, their faces twisting with a betrayed fury, and then recognized their error almost immediately. Squirrel broke into a run even as his remaining friend turned back to face the Guardsmen

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