Content Warning: Violence
The background noise of the city faded into mere whispers as she crept forward, but no betraying murmur or whisper made its way to her; no surreptitious movement bespoke the presence of rebellion. She had nearly reached the end of the alley, and was preparing to turn eastward in search of her quarry, when high above her head she heard a thump, as of a fist being pounded into a table. Twisting around to look in in the direction of the noise, she saw a face briefly appear at a window in the house opposite the one on which she had painted her sign. She shrank back around the corner to avoid detection, and after a few moments she peeked out again. The face had disappeared.
The window stood several times her own height from the ground, and the alley was too wide to climb with a hand on either wall. Hiking up her long skirts above her knees, she took a few steps at a run, then leaped up toward the wall opposite the window. As she sailed upward, she released her skirt and used her hands and feet to propel herself away from that wall and upward again toward her target. She thudded into the wall face-first, but her fingers had found their grip on the ledge of the window, and she pulled herself up and into the house before any inside could have identified the source of the sound.
Six men stood together around a small table littered with disparate objects, as though they had been mapping out a plan using whatever articles came ready to hand. Stunned into momentary inaction by her sudden entrance, they stared at her in silence. She noticed in the stillness that two of them bore the fresh marks of the cane that had been used to flog them.
She fixed one of them with an appraising eye. “Have you given thought to your future?” she asked him.
He made no reply. As if her words had broken a spell, all six of them burst into action, scrambling toward the door on the far side of the room. She reached her hand out through the window behind her and snapped her fingers. Then, as the sound of the commander’s shouted order rang out from the street below, she flung herself across the room and wrenched the door out of the hand of the man who had opened it. Slamming it shut, she thrust him backward into the arms of his comrades.
“I swear to you, I am worse than prison,” she said without hostility. One of the men with stripes on his back charged her anyway, and she dodged to one side, seizing him by the arm and ramming his head into the wall. The bricks crumbled, and he fell down senseless. The rest backed away again, and she opened the door for the guards, whose footsteps were already pounding up the stairs outside the room.