Chapter 15 - Guests in Alien Realms

- Jyre: A Guest in Nightfallís Estate - Day 10: 7:00am

My body was warmed by the sun's rays coming in through the gap in the shutters. My face lay atop something smooth and soft. I squirmed inside the folds of the cloak, not wishing to wake, but something niggled at me until I opened my eyes. I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. It seemed very high. It wasn't the plain drab wooden boards I was used to, but a painted substance that had been molded into a relief. There was a large central circular panel, inside of which was set the scene of a forest canopy, so you felt as though you were staring up through the branches at a beautiful blue sky. Flying around this scene were an unbroken chain of dragons, each one a different color. I stared up at them for a long time, thinking of the short time I had been away from this place, when I had witnessed such magnificent scenes myself. I had been in the care of a blind healer, Lysander, who had claimed the very forest as his home, and I had lain in amongst the fern leaves and stared up at such a sky. "See those clouds?" Els had asked me. I had turned my head to watch his time-worn features. "They are called 'Dragon clouds', because of their distinctive shape."

I sighed and climbed out the huge bed and walked over to the shutters. Pulling them open, I was washed by the sun's warmth and I felt the small tear of sadness that had clutched my heart dry up. Els had moved on from this life. Dwelling on the past would not bring him back.

The view from the small window was amazing. I could see the entire city spread out before me, its buildings like tiny models and its people like ants. And there was the river, cutting through it like a snake. I could make out the Cathedral, a huge monstrosity set in the very center of the city. Beyond that lay the slums, where Els and I had had our small hut. I smiled slightly at that thought. We may not have had much, but it had been ours.

I stepped from the window and looked around. Nightfall's cloak was still draped across my shoulders and threatened to trip me up with every step I took. The room was at least double the size of my hut and the carpet alone must had been worth more than I had earned in my entire life! The whole place spoke of wealth. The carpet beneath my bare feet was thick and soft. The sheets that draped the bed were made of a material so thin that it looked as though it would tear with a single touch, and yet it was stronger than anything I had ever known. Standing there, filthy and in rags, I felt like an intruder in a sacred world.

I walked around the bed and sat down on its edge. I couldn't believe I had been so privileged as to sleep in it! I was used to making my bed on a straw stuffed sack and yet here I was perched atop a real mattress. To have lain, wrapped in Nightfall's lined cloak, would have been sufficient but he had been kind enough to grant me the use of a bed. I shook my head in confusion. It seemed a very strange way to treat someone who had tried to kill him.

My eyes strayed to the bowl of fruit that sat atop a solid oak dresser. The sight of so much food in one place made my mouth water. I found myself reaching out to take a piece. Just as my fingers were curling around the apple's unblemished skin I spotted a crisp white square of paper weighed down by the bowl. I pulled it free and ate as I read.

Jyre,

Welcome to my home. I hope your stay here is pleasant. Iím sure you will find my servants to be friendly, and helpful. I had some new clothes left for you in the dresser. Thatís it by the door. No, not the thing by the bed, the thing by the door. See it now? Good. I know you prefer freedom, but I must request that you stay in the manor until I get back. I know you will do as I ask. Thank you.

-Daneel

I smiled when I saw how the letter was signed. Finishing the apple, I glanced around for somewhere to dispose of it, saw nothing obvious and tossed it out the open window instead. I was about to go to the dresser and open it when the door opened slightly and a head peeked through. I froze, as I fought to keep my instincts from kicking in. I reminded myself where I was, and that I did not need to fear detection. It was a middle aged woman, with sandy blond hair and soft blue eyes. She smiled, causing her entire face to wrinkle up pleasantly. "Awake at last," she beamed. Pushing the door open she stepped into the room. She was dressed in a simple, yet elegant, dark gray outfit, the likes of which I had never seen before. "And how are you feeling this morning?"

"F-fine," I hurried over to the dresser and pulled open the drawer, needing something to occupy myself with. I hadn't been expecting company!

"Here, let me help you." Before I could get a proper look in the drawer she had taken something out and held it up. "A little on the big side but it'll do." I studied the rich fabric top she held up, with its full-length sleeves, small collar and single pearl button. Before I could protest that it was too good for me she had pulled Nightfall's cloak free of my shoulders and just stood there studying me as though I were a piece of furniture! "A bath first, I think."

"Bath!" I blurted thoughtlessly. I must've sounded very ignorant for she gave me a look of total shock. I coughed to clear my throat. "Master Nightfall can afford baths?"

She chuckled, either at her own misunderstanding or my foolishness, and took my hand. "Yes, child." Her tone had changed so she sounded as though she addressed a simpleton. "A nice warm steamy bath." With that she led me out the room and down a hallway to a door which, judging by the steam coming from around its jam, led into the bathroom. "In you go lass. I'll lay your clothes out on the bed for you. When you're ready, take yourself down to the kitchen for breakfast." With that she took her leave. I lifted my hand to the doorknob, turned it and stepped into the waves of steam.


- Nightfall: Flaming Chutes - Day 10: 7:00am

The canvas of the parachute was now pulling me up faster then would be natural for a fall. This would not do at all. I did the only think that I really could do; urge myself towards one of the walls. It wasnít the best idea, granted, but it was preferable to all-out death. The parachute hit one of the lava falls pouring from a rather large tunnel, and instantly burst into flames. Dammit.

What happened next was really quite a blur. Suddenly I was surrounded by the flames of the burning canvas, and them slammed against the shaft wall! As soon as I regained my senses, and once again thanked my protection, I realized that some of the cords from the now incinerated chute had melted into a tangled mass, and managed to jar themselves in the rock formations on the wall. My relief of rescue was cut short with the realization that I was about five feet from a very ugly looking lava fall.

Grabbing the cords, I pulled myself upwards slowly. My objective was now very deep below, and I could barely make it out. I wouldnít be going down this way anymore.


- Jyre: Myr-Zin - Day 10: 7:10am

I toweled myself down, pulled on the clothes Daneel had left and stepped into the hallway. There was a boy standing there waiting for me, nervously shuffling his feet on the carpet.

"You Jyre, miss?" he asked shyly. He must have been about twelve or thirteen, slim built but tall with sandy brown hair and soft brown eyes.

"Yeah." I brushed back my wet hair. "Why?"

"Got to take you to the kitchen, miss." So saying he turned and walked away. I had to run to catch him up. "Cook's made yer breakfast," he added hastily.

I watched his back as he walked, feeling rather uncomfortable. By the way he had his shoulders hunched I could tell I wasn't the only one.

"What's your name?"

"Myr-Zin, miss." He didn't look up as he spoke and his pace seemed to quicken. He led me to a flight of stairs.

"Odd name," I noted casually.

His back visibly stiffened when I said that. He came to a halt just ahead of me. "Myr-Zin is my slave name, miss," he said softly.

"Oh." I felt a chill run through my body. "You're a slave?"

"Was, miss. Belonged to the Myr family. Then some thief got me out and brought me here. I work for Master Nightfall now." I had no answer. He just stood there, staring at his toes. Then he let out a long sigh. "I like it here." He turned to face me, slowly lifting his eyes. "He rescued you too, didn't he?"

I nodded. "I didn't deserve it." I watched him as he watched me, waiting for him to speak. It seemed that he had the same idea. The continued silence made me want to say something. "What's Master Nightfall like?" I asked, settling my back against the wall behind me.

He frowned as he thought. "He is a good man, miss. He never asked no questions when I came here. Just fed me good and let me stay. All he wants is for me to work hard. And he don't get angry. Never hit me none, neither." Zin paused and shook his head. "It is good here. You will like it."

"And the Hammers?" I had to ask. That letter I had found the day before still bothered me.

He suddenly dropped his eyes and turned away. "Don't know what you mean, miss."

"He works for them. Doesn't he?"

The boy suddenly spun around, his eyes glittering in delight. He glanced about, checking no one was listening, then stepped closer. "Promise not to tell anyone?"

"Who would I tell?" I asked, repeating his actions. Everyone I know's either miles away or dead."

He grinned. "Welllll," he said, drawing out the word, "It be like this. Them Hammers, they call the Master their prophet and says he speaks to gods and such. One o' them brothers that came here told me himself. But I know better." The boy giggled. "The Master, he tells me they are like his toys. He pushes and prods and they all go running just like he says. Can make them do anything he wants. And so blind are they in their belief that not a one can see the truth! Makes me laugh to watch it Ė to see them all scuttle!" He stepped away suddenly and glanced down the stairs. "Have to go," he mumbled and hurried away. I thought on his words as I followed, wondering if I dared believe them.


- Nightfall: Dragon Skin - Day 10: 7:10am

I managed to pull myself up to where the lava fall was pouring out of a tunnel. Setting foot on solid ground at last, I released myself from the cords, and discarded them. I would have to find some way to repay Brother Thurm for the device, which, in spite of the circumstances, worked extremely effectively.

I looked down the tunnel, which was round, with a diameter of roughly thirty feet. A lava stream oozed ever-outwards, but the current was slow enough to allow me to walk on it, provided I didnít stumble, that is. I didnít have much of a choice, really, for the lip of cold stone I now stood on only went about twenty feet down, and then it was all lava. I prayed that this tunnel didnít hold any nasty surprises, and began my trek by foot.

I heard a hiss as I stepped onto the molten rock, and the dragon-scale boots actually seemed to contract a little, as if the skin was still alive, and reacting to the heat. Battered but unbroken, I moved slowly upstream.

- Jyre: Far Too Much Breakfast - Day 10: 7:20am

I stared at the plate of food that had been set in front of me in disbelief. "This is breakfast? But there's so much!" To be honest I didn't even know what half of it was. I looked up at the cook and smiled. "Thank you." I tried very hard not to eat like a pig but with all those wonderful smells filling my nostrils I found it hard not too. I pulled my dagger (now clean) from my belt and stabbed the largest slice of meat on the plate. The overlong sleeve of the top I had been left unraveled itself and tangled itself around my hand. I sighed and rolled it all the way to my elbow, not wanting to get it dirty. I would've preferred to put my own clothes back on after my bath but someone had taken them away before I could protest. I could just imagine all the stares I would get outside walking around in such overlarge and obviously expensive garments. I would no doubt have at least one Hammer on my tail merely for that. I had just raised the knife to my mouth when Nightfall's butler walked in.

"Really, miss!" he said in a most perturbed tone of voice. "Did no one ever teach you how to use a fork?" I stared at him blankly. He sighed rather loudly. "And your outfit!" He fussed over me for at least five minutes after that, straightening creases, refolding sleeves and who knows what else until he was finally satisfied. I tolerated the prodding with as little complaint as I could manage. When he tried to make me use this thing called a fork I finally lost my temper and snapped at him! "Well!" he turned up his nose at me and snorted.

"Oh Jossimer, leave the poor lass alone! I donít know how the Master puts up with you, but to this poor girl you must be a horrible monster!"

I watched him walk out the room with a huff and grinned.

"Not hungry?" the cook said, in a tone much different then she had just used.

I glanced down at the barely touched plate and shook my head. A full slice of meat and an apple was more food than I was used to eating in one day, let alone a single sitting! "It was good though. I just don't have much of an appetite, that's all. I think I'll go outside for a while. I need to stretch my legs." And get away from all this smothering, I added to myself. I hated myself for letting this food go to waste, Els and I never wasted anything.

"But the Master Nightfall said you were ill. He would not be pleased if I let you wander around outside whilst you are still recovering. There is plenty you could be doing inside."

I checked a sigh and stood up. I should've seen that one coming. "Would it be okay if I looked around the library?"

"Of course, my dear. I'll get Jossimer to show you the way."

"No, thank you," I mumbled quickly. "M-master Nightfall left me a map in my room. I'll be able to find it." I hoped that my lie was not too obvious.

"If you're sure."

I dashed out the door, not waiting for any more to be said.


- Nightfall: Fire Element - Day 10: 7:30am

I pressed myself into a dark crack as I saw the bright orange orb float gently by. It was a perfect sphere, radiating with a churning pattern of flame, with a trail of glowing gas forming a tale behind it. The solemn creature was a wonder to behold. It was a fire elemental, native to areas like this, and very dangerous. I was the intruder in its realm, so I chose concealment over confrontation. If I attacked it with a water arrow, which would extinguish it, its dying cries would summon its kin, and then there would be hell to pay. No, I waited, and watched as it dropped out of sight, and then continued my way down the upwardly sloping lava-tube.


- Jyre: A Luxurious Prison - Day 10: 7:30am

"Damn him!" I kicked the side of the bookcase, which only made my toes throb even more inside the cramped boots. I pulled them off angrily and tossed them at the door. It was obvious he didn't want me to leave. I gave the bookcase a thump. My sleeve unraveled and dangled over my hand. "Why?" I started to pace the floor but had to stop before the trousers tripped me. "Don't you trust me?" I asked out loud, then laughed at the stupidity of my own question. Why should he trust me? I had tried to kill him! I started to pace again. The Hammerites. The name flitted through my head but I dismissed it. If he had intended to turn me over he wouldn't have healed me first. "What then?"

I paused for a moment and studied the spines of the books that filled the bookcase that lined three of the four walls. More signs of his wealth. I felt smothered in here! I grabbed one at random and started flicking through it without any knowledge of what I hoped to find. It fell open near the center. The left hand page was covered in text, the right had a picture of a strange mythical beast with the title "Dryad". In the margin, in Master Nightfall's neat script, were the words "Query James". I slammed the book shut and returned it to the shelf. I had my answer. If anyone knew what Nightfall was up to, James would. Now all I had to do was get out of here. But how? I knew little of the layout of the mansion. In my frustration I dropped to the carpeted floor, and lay down with a sigh. My eyes then burst open wide. On the far wall, near the ceiling, was a map of the Mansion! It was really more of an artistís rendering, with most of the details left out and a few of the wings had no details whatsoever, but it was enough. I studied it for several moments, plotting. No doubt the two entrances I knew of would be watched so I needed to find one that was more obscure. My eyes were drawn straight to the area distorted by shadows, no doubt meant to signify that no one was supposed to go there. It seemed the best place to start looking.


- Nightfall: Pressing on - Day 10: 8:00am

Iím not sure when I realized how tired I was, I only knew that I was. The last time I had slept had been two days ago, back with the Hammerite task force. It seemed like ages ago, now. I glanced down at the map, which was spread out before me in my hands. The insects were now doing what they were meant to do: scurry about the paper and draw the map with their natural ink.

One of the bugs excitedly drew something up ahead with a sharp edge. Looking up to see the anomaly, I was relieved at what came into view. I picked up the pace, getting closer so I could discern exactly what this man-made structure was. It looked to be a building, half-encased in rock, and half-submerged in the lava. Cautiously, I approached, keeping near the wall of the tunnel. My ears could only hear the general rumble of the lava beneath my feet, and all around me.

I peered into one of the windows, and saw a dark interior. A passageway on the far side of the room lead into inky blackness. I made it through the lava tunnels, and had found an entrance to the labyrinth.


- Jyre: Camouflage - Day 10: 8:00am

I wound my way through the maze of rooms and corridors, trying my best to follow my recollection of the map. Twice I took a wrong turn and had to double back, but now I felt certain I was on the right course. The ground here was sloping slightly downwards, the rooms were becoming less frequent and less used. Mildew was eating at the brickwork. Not even the richest people, it would seem, could keep that little parasite from encroaching where it wished. The plan was simple enough. I had found the address of James' flat in the letter I had read the day before and finding it wouldn't prove too difficult. Once there I would find out where Daneel had gone using whatever means were necessary. I had been thinking about it more as I made my way down here and I was starting to worry. I remembered him saying, "There is still time..." Then he had said, "I know what she's doing..." If the "she" he was talking about was who I thought it was, I needed to be with him. I had gotten him into all of this, it wasn't fair of me to leave him to face her on his own. I turned another corner and stepped into sunlight.

The day was too warm for my liking. I preferred it to be much cooler with a little more shade. Still, I had no reservations about stripping off the top I wore. There was no one around to see me after all. I felt a pang of guilt as I took out my dagger and sliced the button of the collar. But that was all it was, a pang. He had left me with little choice. The button I slipped into my belt pocket. I had at least managed to retain that. The sleeves were next. I cut them off just above the elbow, leaving threads hanging free. Then I took the whole thing and rubbed it in the dirt until it looked worn and old. I felt rotten doing something so terrible to something that was obviously valuable but I could hardly go around dressed like a Lord's daughter now, could I? The trousers faced a similar fate, though I didn't need to take them off. I just cut them short and rolled about on the ground for a while. This little bit of madness also helped disguise the fact that I had bathed. Street rats don't often go around with clean skin and perfectly combed hair. Satisfied that I now looked as I should, I started picking my way down the hillside.


- Nightfall: Gray - Day 10: 9:00am

I wearily pressed on, though, through these nondescript corridors, forks, t-junctions, intersections, and so forth. The map told me where I had been, but not where I was going. I pressed on for what seemed like hours. Something struck me as not quite right, but I could not put my finger on it. It wasnít the air, for it was quite stale, nor the temperature. It was the light, or lack thereof, and my ability to see. Everything had a strange green tint to it, the walls, myself, even the dust in the air. I could not say where this light was coming from, but I was grateful. I spiraled deeper and deeper, towards the temple, I thought, and to the Faery Queen.

Finally, I came to something new. I was now in a large, domed chamber. All of the walls still bore the same pattern, the pattern I had first seen in the tunnel which lead from the lodgeís basement to the great chamber, scraped by the men or creatures who dug it. There were seven paths to take, and I was slightly unsure of my direction. Everything was very quiet, but not quiet enough. All the way the only sound I had heard had been my own barely audible breath and footsteps. At the moment I should have only been able to hear my breath, but there was something else, another sound, which I couldnít quite put my finger on. I wasnít even sure if I was really hearing it. It was more of a feeling that there was a noise, rather than actually hearing it. It was hard to explain, even to myself. I felt my brow lower with concern. Something was not right. There was no light, yet I could see, and now I was hearing things, yet I couldnít.

I took a step forward. The sound of my own footstep echoed in my ears. I felt drawn closer to the center of the room. I took another step. My footfall sounded like a hammer falling on marble. The sound in my mind became louder, more concrete. It was a low, deep, chanting sound. Thousands of voices in unison. I stepped again. Turning my head, I could see every exit from the room. It was a perfect circle, no one part any different from the others. The chanting grew louder. I took another step. The sound of my footstep was nearly unbearable, yet it did not phase me. I was almost to the center. There was only a few more steps to go. The chanting was now even louder. I could almost make out words. I stepped again. The volume of the chanting in my head nearly matched the thunder of my footstep in my ears. The room seemed to spin around me, yet I remained stationary. My body felt numb. I was aware of everything, but not started nor disturbed by any of it. It was all natural, as it was meant to be. I stepped again, into a small gold circle in the very center of the room.

All was silent again. I was not alone.

Seven figures, sitting in seven thrones, were seated above the seven exits. The all wore gray robes, which covered their entire bodies. Their gray-gloved hands were folded on their laps. Their faces were hidden beneath the shadows of their hoods. They were looking at me. All of them identical, yet I felt a different type of presence from each of them. Everything was quiet. I could no longer even hear my own breath. I didnít even know if I was still breathing. I didnít even know which direction I faced, though it didnít seem to matter. I could see all of them, just as all of them could see me.

I donít know how long I stood there, motionless, not breathing, my mind in some sort of bizarre peace. It could have been hours, days, even years. It didnít matter. Time itself had stopped for me. They all spoke at once, with the same voice. Seven mouths, speaking in once voice, saying the same words.

"You, he who serves those above, those who created all, those who created us, those who created good and evil, light and darkness, those who created the earth and the sky and heaven and hell, why have you come here?"

I did not speak. Words flowed from my mind. You must be mistaken. I do not work in the service of the creators, I am an outsider from a faraway realm. I came here, to this labyrinth, to stop a great evil from destroying the balance.

"Why do you seek to maintain the balance? That task is of those whom you know as Keepers. You are not a Keeper."

I feel that the preservation of balance is vital for the continuation of civilization.

ĎWhat makes you believe the creators wish this evil stopped?"

I do not understand of what you speak. I have come here to do what I know needs to be done. No force commanded me as such, it was of my own free will.

There was a pause. A long pause.

"This evil has violated our domain. We existed here in peace. They have forced us from our home using dark magic. We now exist in Limbo. We suffer. We do not understand why this evil has done this. We sensed your presence, a soul more powerful than any we have encountered before. We understood why you came. We understood who you are. We understood that you shall help us. We guided you here so that we may help you help us."

How will you help me? What must I do?

"We do not know how this evil can be stopped. Evil is not of our nature. We cannot comprehend. We cannot fight what we do not understand. You are a man. Evil is in your nature. You understand evil. You can fight evil. You can destroy evil. We will guide you to this evil, but can do no more."

I shall do as you need of me.

"We thank you."

I inhaled. The sensation was almost uncanny. I glanced about. The room was exactly how it was when I first entered. I was standing in the center.


- Lytha: Shoplifting - Day 10: 9:00am

Koyne stared at my face. Then his gaze wandered down to his own dagger in my hands, the one pointed at his throat. He was sweating.

"But Lytha Ė "

"No word."

He closed his mouth fast and stared nervously at my eyes. I had entered his shop, shortly before he closed it for noon. I knew that he used to spend this time of the day in his office, reading some papers. I had snuck into his office, and I had stolen his own dagger from his belt. Now we were in the back office of his shop, and his hands were already tied behind his back.

"I think it is better for you to forget that I was here. Everything. You know what a beast I can be."

He nodded slowly.

"Okay." I gagged him with a handkerchief, and left the office. I had already locked the entrance, but I checked it again. No need to take more risks than needed. I placed the sign "Closed" in the window of the door.

Koyne had a well-sorted little shop. In addition to the legal front room, where he sold clothes and regular weapons, he had also a sort of hidden back room. There he sold everything that a thief might ever need. I bought my stuff here, whenever I needed some. I had no idea where he got the stuff, but he always had some of the really rare items.

I went back to the office, and opened the hidden door with the switch under the desk. He was still down there in the corner of the floor, staring nervously at me. I ignored him and entered the back room.

The back room was definitely bigger than the front room. No wonder, that was the place where he got the real money. I went to the potions, and was once again amazed at what he had here. I took some of each, more healing potions than others. He had also the famous mushroom tea potions here, I noticed with a grin. I took one, maybe it could be of help if I could make someone drink it.

I equipped myself with a blackjack, and tested the bows he had. I found a really pretty short bow that I could easily hide under the cloak, as I used to do. I took some daggers, and a huge amount of arrows of all kinds, as many as I could put in the quiver. Koyne had a really good collection here. The lockpicks were in the secret drawer of the desk. I knew that because I had bought my last ones here. I went to Koyne and took his key to open the lock. His gaze was really not amused. I tried to ignore him anyhow, and took some lockpicks. He had the strings, for tying unconscious guards, in the drawer, too. I equipped myself. Finally, I grabbed a small box of matches, and went back to Koyne.

He stared really scared at me when I drew his dagger out off my boot, but I was not that mad. I dropped the dagger on the floor, hilt pointing at him, where he could get it to untie himself.

"Koyne, I'm sorry. If I should return alive, I will pay the bill. I have no time to explain now. Sorry, again."

I left the shop. I had surely not left a friend back in there. But if necessary, I would clear this later with him.


- Jyre: Meeting an Old Friend - Day 10: 10:00am

I watched as the two Hammers passed by the tiny tunnel that ran between the two houses, counted to a hundred in my head and stepped back out onto the dirt street. I hadn't taken more than two paces when someone who was obviously in a hurry slammed into my back. I turned angrily, my dagger already in my hand. The person who had done the bumping looked even more surprised than I was.

"J-Jyre."

I lifted the dagger to his throat. "You following me?"

He shook his head quickly. "No. J-just doing a little shopping." He lifted the parcel he was carrying and made a horrible grimace of a smile.

I snorted and shook my head. "Somehow I can't picture the mighty Ramirez doing his own shopping for pleasure." With a poke of my dagger I steered him up against the wall, away from the main flow of traffic. I considered the package for a second then shook my head. I didn't care about it. "I can, however, see him sending someone away to die."

He shook his head vigorously. "Never!"

I lifted the dagger to his cheek and pressed it hard against his flesh. A single pearl droplet of blood formed at its point and slowly slid down the blade, leaving a thin shimmering trail on the cool iron blade. I watched it, fascinated. That little droplet held his life inside. With a single flick of my wrist I could turn the trickle into a flood and drain him of his life. It was amazing that everything that went into making a person was dependent on such a simple, easily-shed liquid. The droplet came to nestle on my hand. I lifted my eyes to look into Ramirez's own. "Those supplies you gave me were duds."

His tongue flashed out as he licked his lips. I could see his little brain ticking away as he searched for a valid excuse. "I didn't know, I swear! The whole batch was kaput. I only found out Ė" His words ended in a squeal as I dragged my blade down his cheek. Blood swelled in two neat parallel lines where the blade's edges had ripped open his face. I smiled at the damage I had done to his precious looks.

"No one likes damaged goods, Ramirez," I said, switching the now bloody weapon to my other hand and resting against his unblemished cheek. "Which is what you'll become if you don't tell me truth." He followed my gaze, comprehended my meaning and gave a tiny nod. "Good. Now kindly tell me why you wanted me dead."

More hesitation. I wasn't feeling very patient. He gained a matching pair of cuts on his other cheek. I slid the blade downwards. He suddenly seemed very happy to talk. "She asked me to do her a favor Ė"

"She?"

"Lady Morganna! I just passed on a message and made sure you got the dud supplies. That's all I did."

Morganna? The Lady! I snorted. "All? You must find her very; entertaining; if you're willing to kill for her." I was about to add more when I saw his eyes flick to the side. I followed the glance and spotted the Hammer patrol making its way down the street. One of them happened to look my way, saw the dagger in my hand and raised his voice in alarm. I fled.

- Chapter 14 - A Second Chance / Chapter 16 - New Alliances

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.