A teenage girl flung herself headlong through the maze of the fishing district. She scrambled over barrels of squid and mackerel. Her heart leapt with her feet and her ears strained to catch the sound of armored footsteps behind her. She jerked, skidding, as advancing Royal Guards bullied and pushed protesting merchants out of their path. Ducking into an alleyway, she crouched behind a pile of discarded crates and peeled off the sash tied to her waist. Its fluttering skirt dropped, revealing twin throwing knives sheathed in her leather belt.
A guard’s voice, threatening and masculine, echoed through the alleyway.
“Did she come in here?”
Tahra inhaled the sour air of the wharf. Her sweaty palms rested tensely on the cool hilt of her blades.
“I’m sure I saw her,” said another guard.
They approached cautiously over the cobblestones, their heavy mail shifting with each movement. She could hear only two footfalls; the main group must have gone north to hunt for her in the Thieves’ Den, a notorious district where the king’s men had little authority. Tahra pressed her tongue against her top teeth and thought. She could make it there through the sewer, if only she could get past.
Her quarry neared, closer and closer until one armored toe — Tahra sprung!
She struck the speaker dead in the neck.
The other guard shielded his face with a gauntlet as she threw another knife. Its fine point failed to find purchase against the metal, but she jumped on him, knocking him blindly to the ground. She leapt away, intending to run when he grabbed her right ankle and wrestled her to the ground. They struggled against the stones. One of the guard’s arms wrapped around her throat and began to strangle her.
Tahra choked. She turned and bit his right ear. He screamed and tried to throw her off, but she hung on like a terrier.
Under her glowing red eyes, his body convulsed and withered. His hair whitened as time ravaged through him. When the guard was a frail, incoherent husk, Tahra kicked him away and rose. She wiped the blood from her mouth against her sleeve, noticing the hem now hung one inch past her wrist. Her clothes folded loosely around her.
Tahra snorted and tightened her belt. Another year younger in exchange for fifty years older for the guard. What an imbalanced curse! But enough of self-pity, she had to see if any of her comrades in the Rebellion had survived the failed coup. Pulling her hood over her plumper face, Tahra ran for the Den.