(I was writing a different scene until I realized that Mira hasn’t been out in Paris since joining the Jade League, and it’s about time she got promoted to patrols. So here she is out being badass before we return to our regularly scheduled indoor boredom in that scene I was writing before.)
[chapter 8 continued]
The night cradled Mira in fog and darkness as she adjusted the harness around her hips. In a few moments, the rest of her team would drop over the edge of this rooftop and set the charges along the windowsill of the corner office below. Meanwhile, Mira and Nicholas, the other strong mage on their team, would shatter the window below to comb through the office itself before it blew. She pulled on her gloves and tested the length of heavy-duty rope that would hold her from the rigging on the roof. All set. She glanced over at Nicholas, who tugged on his own harness and gave her a ready sign. They jokingly saluted their team leader and dropped over the edge.
For a moment the sickening sensation of free fall spiraled around her, followed by the sudden jolt of the cable catching her. Mira braced her feet against the sleek face of the building, careful to avoid the weak center of the huge window. Her weight likely couldn’t exert enough force to break the glass, but she didn’t want to risk it. Beside her, Nicholas poised on the wide pillar that separated the window from its neighbor. She rappelled down to the bottom of the window, her shoes struggling for purchase on the narrow ledge. It took her a moment to lock in the rope and free up her hands. She stripped the glove off her right hand and set it against the window. Her sweat steamed the glass under her hand, and she imagined her fingerprints emblazoned on the smooth surface. In another place, another time, that detail would incriminate her, sentencing her to a life in prison for what they were about to do—but not here. Just try and catch me, she thought, the challenge sending a thrill down her spine. At the same time, she knew her involvement in this crime hardly mattered. Ultimately, only the Jade League would be at fault.
She whistled three notes, low high low, and waited for the response. Their team leader whistled back in reply, high high low. Go. Mira took a slow, deep breath and spread her hand on the cold glass.
“Dirrumpo,” she whispered, her mind shaping the magic energy that flowed from her body to her fingers and into the glass. At first, nothing happened. Then, with the slow, aching momentum of an avalanche, the window shattered inward, shards of glass tumbling downward in a tinkling, almost musical cascade to the floor. Mira stood poised on the ledge, untouched by the shower of glass. When everything settled, she signaled to Nicholas, and together they gingerly dropped to the floor inside. Mira had controlled the damage to fall in a narrow strip along the edge of the room once occupied by the window, leaving the carpet beyond clear for them. Nicholas motioned for her to take care of this office while he slipped out into the hall and dealt with the others.
Outside, Mira could hear the others in their team rappelling down to the adjacent window ledges to put the charges in position. Nicholas had primed them himself before they left headquarters so they wouldn’t blow until the entire team was well away from the building. Mira ignored the pattering of their feet hitting the thick glass windows, and instead turned to scan the office. The desk computer was easy enough to handle; the power had already been shut off, so she went straight to dismantling the case and pulled out the hard drive. A quick but complex spell created a dummy duplicate that she installed in the empty slot. This way the aftermath of the coming explosion would contain hard drive shards as if nothing had been taken.
A search of the office’s drawers and cabinets turned up a laptop, two external hard drives, and an old desktop computer that had already been stripped of all useful parts. Mira paused to take apart the laptops and take those hard drives before using the same spell to make dummy drives to leave behind. She didn’t envy the load of work Olivier would soon have when they brought back the originals, but this office kept records of government finances which, when examined in the proper fashion, would help the Jade League identify targets for further disrupting government function. It was an important mission, and only Mira’s second time working out in the city, but Etienne had insisted that she start gaining experience on the outside. Besides, she had grown up around computers and knew her way around the guts of a disassembled desktop machine.
Partway through replacing the last laptop hard drive, she heard a long, low whistle from Nicholas. Before she could go looking for him, he stole back into the room.
“The security system activated,” he told her, taking the hard drives from her and stowing them in his pack. “We need to go.”
Mira nodded and whistled a signal to their team leader above. They had taken great pains to ensure the office was empty before this operation; any bystander casualty was unacceptable, even if that bystander worked for the government. With the security system activated, a response team would soon arrive to investigate, which left little time for the team to blow the office and still escape without trouble. Mira followed suit as Nicholas clipped his rope back onto his harness and leapt back up to the window ledge. She felt a tug on her rope and tugged back twice. Instantly the slack pulled taught, and she was lifted off her feet. She spun slowly, suspended in open space with nothing to control her torque until she came level with the upper sill of the window. She and Nicholas scrabbled for purchase on the edge until their teammates pulled them over the parapet and onto the roof.
The moment their feet hit steady ground, they tore off the harnesses, looping them with the rope and undoing the safety rigging on the rooftop fixtures. Their teammates were already dismantled their own equipment, and within minutes the team was packed and moving out. Mira kept scanning the dark streets as they shimmied down the fire escape of an adjacent building. The sound of a car approaching roared in the still night, and as if the headlights cutting through the fog weren’t enough to announce the squad car’s arrival, its sirens blared angrily.
“Now,” she told Nicholas, “blow it now.”
But he shook his head. “The team isn’t clear.”
“We’re on the opposite side—if you wait any longer, the police will be inside the building.”
Nicholas looked ahead to their team leader, but he didn’t notice Mira and Nicholas arguing on the landing of the fire escape.
“Do it now,” ordered Mira. “Blame it on me if you like, but blow it now.”
He stared at her, panicked. “But the blast—”
She gripped his hands and tried to shake sense into him. If it weren’t for the priming on the charges, she would have blown the office herself; but Nicholas was the only one who could. “The explosion will blind the police and give us a better chance of escape. The longer you hesitate, the more you risk taking a life.”
At this, he closed his eyes and muttered the trigger word. Mira felt the rush of energy through his hands, and from overhead and behind them she heard the roar of the explosion. She added her own spells to direct the blast and redistribute the debris from the shattered glass window. Around her, the other members of her team shielded their eyes from the bright glow of the explosion above. As if by some prior agreement, though really just their training kicking in, they all scattered.
Mira hit the ground harder than she intended and let her knees buckle under her to absorb the landing. Nicholas landed lighter beside her, having taken a few more rungs down the fire escape before dropping to the sidewalk. He took off down the first dark alleyway, but Mira hesitated. She knew she ought to err on the conservative side rather than risk herself, but some part of her felt a responsibility to use her skills to help the entire team evade the police. With everyone scattered, the best strategy would stall the police in some way to keep them from immediately taking off in pursuit, but she knew it was too risky to stay behind. At the moment, Nicholas, with his pack full of hard drives, was the most important person to protect. She had to trust the rest of the team to figure out their own ways to safety. This decided, she cast a short illusion of a secondary blast to keep the police down and followed Nicholas down the alley in a full out sprint.
At last her training felt real. This headlong sprint into the dark recesses of Paris remapped itself to the structures of the training room during terrain running. Nicholas now was the one to tag, while simultaneously the secret police who would soon be behind her were other terrain runners seeking to catch her. Except now the punishment for getting caught was not a tagging slap on the arm, but a bullet to her brain.
She understood now how Etienne had navigated the streets and alleys on that first night she’d met him. After weeks of training, her eyes too saw the irregular paths through the city, paths that led over unsteady piles of crates, shaky scaffolding over soon-to-be painted storefronts, rusted fire escapes, and over bushes and benches that would hide the deviation from the straight and obvious path. As Mira ran, she pushed obstructions over the ground she’d just covered, casting spells to muffle the noise as heavy boxes slammed to the sidewalk and piles of discarded furniture splintered across the cement floor of the alleyway. She was lucky Nicholas wasn’t doing the same ahead of her. She knew any teammate following the same path would have a rough time navigating the debris she left behind, but she was relatively sure that they had all disappeared into the dark while she had paused to cast the illusion.
Nicholas’s path began to wander too far east. In desperation to steer him back, she took a sharp inhale of breath and whistled long and low, praying he would hear. A few moments later, he grabbed her and swung her down into a crouch in a dark alcove. His expression begged his question.
“Head more west,” she whispered.
He paused to think about their position then nodded in agreement. “Are we being followed?” he breathed.
Mira shook her head. “Don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. Take five more minutes at full speed, then we’ll creep the rest of the way back.”
“Switch packs,” he whispered. “Mine’s lighter than the gear. You’re better at running and won’t damage them.”
They swapped, Mira handing off the backpack of climbing equipment to him. She cinched the precious hard drive laden pack tight against her back and tested it by twisting from side to side. She felt the tender spot on her ribcage twinge, but otherwise everything was compact and ready for another headlong run. She and Nicholas exchanged glances, and they took off into the night again, weaving roughly parallel paths through the city towards the safety of headquarters.