This chapter is for oceanspike who suggested that Arlin's accent was Swedish. I'm sobbing now. Vampires? Romania? Come on, please don't tell me no one knows their vampire mythology here!

Chapter 17

Joren sipped his unidentifiable, menacingly fizzing alcoholic beverage of his choice with his head down and his eyes up, scanning the room over the rim of his glass. Two men, sitting further down the bar, were the focus of most of the attention. They were wearing black. Not that black wasn't a perfectly acceptable, and even preferable colour to Joren…it was the type of black they were wearing which made them stand out.

The inn that the two knights, Shang person and unknown commodity (Rat) were occupying was called the Royale Drum. Or it would, but the capital letters had one day proved to be too heavy for moth-eaten wood and the y had rusted, and so the inn's sign now bore the legend 'he o ale rum". Joren suspected that Rat had been misled by the sign into choosing this inn. It was, quite simply, the smelliest, dankest, shabbiest, shadiest place Joren had ever been in. Even in the Dancing Dove back at home you could slip in unnoticed and only find that half of the people were on dragonsalt. In 'he o ale rum', the people didn't even seem to need dragonsalt. It as if they had gone through the barrier of madness and depravation and had come out on the other side, into sobriety. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

The assorted mixture of people from all nations and places sat alternatively sipping, gulping, and downing their drinks, either in silence or by contributing to the low, silence-punctuated buzz of conversation which hung in the air along with a cloak of deep, heavy soberness. Everyone wore indistinct colours, like grey or navy, and if black was ever donned, it was only scruffy, well-worn, shabby black. These were the real assassins, spies, and thieves. Real assassins and thieves, the kind who were struggling to make a living, were not pretty orphaned girls, left on the doorstep of some evil abusive uncle, but who had nevertheless managed to grow up with spirit and who always had interesting hair-eye colour combinations and were ready to perform little tricks to shock and amaze, such as stealing people's underwear and then dangling it in front of them. (Real thieves and assassins would be offended at a suggestion that they did anything like this. They have strict codes by which this is firmly forbidden because thieves understand that once you've nicked someone's petty cash you don't add insult to injury by nicking their drawers and then expect them to guffaw heartily and offer you a job.)

The two men, sitting down the bar, were wearing black black. All sleek and shiny with edges and lots of archaic silver jewellery like rings with shiny skulls. Joren watched the short, skinny one out of the corner of his eye as he set his mug down. His pointy features, and basically rodent-like aura had led Joren to mentally nickname the man weasel. He was showing the sulky looking woman sitting next to him his shiny silver dagger. She was pouting. Weasel's companion was taller, and tubbier. He was focusing solely on his drink, his face buried in his mug so that only his shock of ginger hair and large ears could be seen. Joren nicknamed him pig. He was watching them because they looked more like they belonged in the dancing dove back at home. Flashy and loud. The other people clothed in indistinct shades of grey, similar to Joren's own, were also scrutinizing them. It was like studying two very stupid animals in a cage of wolves. The pathetic dagger was only attracting attention. Joren snorted into his drink. He'd probably bought it at a pawnshop.

"Excuse me." A plaintive voice came from the tubby one's direction. Joren turned to look at the two men outright, as did a few others. "Excuse me, but this drink tastes of horse piss. I'd like another." The man Joren had nicknamed pig was giving the forty-something year old barmaid a chubby glare. His voice was high-pitched, and strangely stuffy. Make that guinea pig then, Joren thought. A few more people were turning to look

The barmaid, a Yamani who consisted of a stout, strong body dressed in a long, old fashioned, stuffy black Tortallan-style dress with a surprisingly pretty face perched on top, turned around and glared at him.

"It's that or nothing. You can take it or leave it."

Guinea pig's chubby face pouted.

"It really does taste like horse piss. All I want is another drink, and we'll say no more about it."

"And you'd know what horse piss tastes like?" A few men abandoned a nearby tale and started edging closer as others began to look up, sensing a good brawl in the brewing.

"Maybe we should teach him." A small round of sniggers. Weasel was beginning to look nervous.

"Let's just leave it mate, right? C'mon. We'll find someplace and I'll buy you a drink." He glanced around. The sulky-faced woman was watching the scene with an expression of almost carnivorous enjoyment.

"Oh don't leave, the fun's just getting started."

"Yeah hamster boy, we've hardly gotten to know each other yet."

Hamster boy. Joren considered. Not as good as guinea pig. The barmaid had moved away, she too knew a brawl coming on when she saw one. She was delicately removing some of the more expensive drinks from the shelves. When people have to work non-stop at killing and thieving and spying, they have to take out all their pent up frustration and anger on someone. There's no room for emotion in a job, not if you want it well done. And when there happens to be a convenient idiot sitting right there, willingly swimming towards the hook, well, it takes the kind of restraint most people in tough jobs don't have not to reel him in.

"Why don't we shake hands?"

It wasn't much in the way of a trigger-line, but it was enough. Punches would have been thrown had not a familiar figure stepped in the way.

"Come now, come now good ladz, ve are not vanting all of zis trouble."

Joren nearly groaned. What the hell was Rat's idiot strangely accented friend doing here? Didn't he keep sunflowers? Didn't he know that by stepping in he was risking being beaten to a pulp?

Except…Arlin's fake fangs were glinting in his mouth. People were eyeing them uneasily. The more intelligent members of the audience began to edge away. Arlin turned to the barmaid and slapped a coin down onto the counter.

"Give ze good fellow my usual drink, on me." She nodded warily. A few more people started to disperse. Arlin had clearly ruined the mood. A leather tankard of a mostly clear liquid was slammed onto the bar, in front of guinea pig. A few people glanced surreptitiously at it, as if half expecting it to be red. The coin was deftly scooped up. Guinea pig sniffed the drink uncertainly. He took a sip, shifting it in his mouth. The remaining people, seeing with some disappointment that it wasn't acid, went back to their drinks. Guinea pig swallowed it and gave a ponderous frown.

"It's just water." He said.

"Yes, full of minerals, drink it up." Arlin slapped him on the back and turned to look in Joren's direction, his eyes searching. "I need to have a chat viz my friend over there."

He straightened and stalked over, slowly. Guinea pig gave him a final dismissive glance before allowing Weasel to pull him outside.

"What do you want with me?" Joren asked, when they were close enough to speak without anyone eavesdropping.

"Not just you." Arlin jerked his head at a spot behind Joren. "Her too."

Joren swivelled on his stool. Walking down the rickety stairs, dressed in murky shades of brown, was a slightly harassed-looking Kel. She scanned the crowd and spotted them swiftly. Her pace increased and various people turned to look and then dismissed her as she headed towards them.

"She doesn't look too surprised to see me." Arlin observed in a low mutter. Joren shrugged, uncomfortably.

Kel picked her way between tables and slid onto the bar stool next to Joren. The barmaid glanced her way.

"Just some apple juice?" Kel asked. The barmaid nodded. Apple juice was not a drink to be laughed at around here. For the kind of people who inhabited The Royale Drum, going out on a job whilst drunk could mean disastrous consequences. Deadly consequences in most situations.

When the exchange of tankard and money had been made, Kel waited until the barmaid drifted further down the room before turning to her companions. She addressed Arlin first.


"Vell vhat?"

"Well, what're you doing here? Rat said-" She stopped and glanced around, before nudging her chair closer and lowering her voice. Joren restrained a snort. If someone wanted to eavesdrop, that was hardly going to stop them.

"Rat said you had something important to tell us."

Joren looked up from his drink at this.


Kel ignored him.

"Something very important, Rat said. Absolutely vital. So please don't dance around it."

Arlin smiled. Joren eyed his teeth.

"Could you remove the fangs?"

Arlin looked mock offended.

"Zese fangs are ze very essence of my reputation here, I'll haf you know."

"Arlin?" Kel asked.

"All right, all right, no dancink around. Very vell. I do haf something important to disclose."

"You don't even know who we are." Joren pointed out.

"Collectively, Two Tortallan knights, ze Shang-somezing and a certain friend of mine. All off on a vunderful adventure to save Tortall from destruction. Ratty vas very forthcoming after a cider or two."

"We're only collecting information. It's not exactly a case of the weight of the world resting on our shoulders." Joren said in a casual tone, having turned back to his drink. The tense position in which he held himself indicated other, more tense and cautious, feelings. Arlin shrugged.

"Oh, vell, you never know. Ze veight of the vorld often turns up in the oddest places. Do you vant to hear vhat I haf to say or not?"

There was a long pause. Joren suspected that the very friendly airiness of Arlin's tone covered something ugly and bitter, the same way in which leaves cover a trap of sharpened stakes. He didn't want to be the one to fall in it. He shrugged and gestured half-heartedly for Arlin to continue. Kel sat silently.

"Vell zen. I suggest that zat we move to a quieter spot."

Arlin turned and walked off and Joren picked up his drink and silently followed him, leaving Kel with no choice but to follow. The three of them threaded across two rooms that were full of people before finding one that was sufficiently quiet. They sat a small table in the space under a staircase and ignored the other groups of people who were also clearly having shady meetings with interesting persons.

"All right." Joren said, looking at his drink but addressing Arlin. "Now we're in a nice quiet place, why don't you continue?"

"Vith pleasure. Now vhat I haf to tell you must be kept quiet for various reasons. If it vas to get into ze wrong hands, ze consequences vould be…disastrous." Arlin looked at them both to make sure that the information had been absorbed, but both faces remained impassive. Stiff Tortallans, he thought, before continuing.

"A few veeks ago I received my first piece of information. A trustworthy acquaintance of mine mentioned, offhand, in another report, zat he had seen a person vearink an expensive cloakink spell enter a bar in ze slums of Corus, and sit for half an hour in deep discussion vith ze man whom my acvaintance vas trailing at the time. Vhen I received the information I thought nozink of it. Ze man who was being trailed was meetink many shady people regularly, if none who could afford to buy cloakink spells as expensive as the vun used. I kept my eye out, but didn't think more of it until ze man whom my friend vas following disappeared from the outside vorld, and met myself and my superior."

"You're working for someone?"

"My dear Keladry, much as I love the sound of your melodious voice, I vould prefer it if qvestions vere kept until ze end."

Kel leaned back and took a sip of her apple juice, never taking her narrowed eyes off Arlin.

"So, I came into contact vith zis man, and he agreed to tell us everything, as such people alvays do, in exchange for his freedom. He did take a little convincing, but he arrived at zis proposition in the end, as I knew he vould. So, ve sat down, and over a few mugs of cocoa and a nice bun, he talked and talked. Most of vhat he said ve already knew, but he did have vun startling piece of information to give to us." Arlin leaned forward, hoping to promote the air of utmost secrecy, as well as to increase the pause and drag the moment out. The information would sink in better that way. "He told us, vith ze nice girl playink ze harmonica in ze background, zat ze man vith whom he had been meeting vas a middle aged, rather handsome man. Blue eyes, black hair, trimmed beard. (Kel stiffened and froze) Bear in mind zat ze man spilling his guts vas from Scanra. He said that ze man vith whom he had been meetink vas a trusted official of ze king."

Kel began to shake her head slowly.

"You do realise what you're suggesting?" Joren asked glancing up at Arlin before looking back at his drink.

"Of course."

"And that it would be impossible for us to accept your word at this moment. We have no guarantee of you or of your trustworthiness."

"I know."

"So I'm assuming there's more?"

Arlin grinned.

"You are beink strangely open vith me Sir Joren, and yet I am gettink ze feelink zat you are hiding somethink."

Joren gave a strange small movement, somewhere between a shrug and a nod.

"I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you. And do not change the subject."

Arlin wasn't sure whether he was joking or not.

"You exaggerate, I'm sure. However, if that is ze vay you vant it, I vill not press you. I value my neck. There is indeed more, I vould haf been disappointed if either of you had accepted vhat I am sayink at face value. Vhen an oath has been given to serve somevun, as you have given to your king, zat person should not be lightly doubted."

Arlin reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded, crumpled piece of expensive parchment. He unfolded it with quick, jerky movements, and then placed it on the table and slid it towards them. It read

Sir Joren of Stounemountain and Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan:

If you are reading this letter then my agent has located you, and has deemed you appropriate figures with whom to make contact. I hope that he has not judged unwisely. I will be frank.

You were sent on a mission to collect information. Badly needed information, but not for the reasons which you believe. The people whom you were commanded to follow, Nadir Zenith, the former mistress to the Scanran king, a man whom we now know to be styling himself as Johan Smith, or Steven of Cranmoor, and two Yamani mages whose names are still unknown, were all people whom we began to notice early this year. They are all people who have been meeting regularly with the King, or with others working privately for him.

Parliament, the council and myself had no knowledge of this until a few months ago when his majesty was betrayed by a man with whom he had been holding meetings after we arrested him on suspicion of another charge. He had no idea that the man whom he was meeting was the King, but his description proved enough to convince me to have the King himself followed by agents loyal to myself. It appears that the King has been working clandestinely in order to bring about shaky peace treaties with Scanra, and the Corinthian Empire far to the West, which has begun to eye Tortall hungrily, as you'll remember my telling you so in a history lesson not so many years ago. The Corinthians attacked before, a century ago, and we must not allow them to strike again. However, the various agents have discovered that his majesty has resorted to appalling methods to gain extra land and weapons with which to appease these enemies, and has already begun selling convict prisoners to Scanra as labour slaves in exchange for certain services, which he hopes to use to defeat our enemies before appeasements run out.

That is part of the reason for which you were sent together out of the country on my orders, and with the King having no knowledge of your disappearance. Other agents have however, managed to gather information on most of these figures, and coupled with your data on the Scanran Lady Cupida ("Stupid name" Joren muttered) we now have all the proof we require, which is why my agent is making contact with you. The other reason for which you were sent out of the country was simply to get you out of the way, as I say quite bluntly. You are both fairly leading figures in Tortall and at court, and you would both have complicated things had you remained in Corus. We hoped that with your bad history you would keep each other busy and have any drastic reactions to this news well out of the country, giving us time to establish other connections and allies. Another agent assisted us in leading you away.

The King has betrayed his family, most of whom now stand secretly with us, his morals and principles, his Kingdom, and his subjects. We must stop him before his conflicting agreements go too far and are discovered, and the Corinthian Emperor decides that Tortall would be a nice jewel to add to his treasure chest.

There is to be a meeting in the lower part of Corus in two weeks time. An agent will be waiting for you by Balor's needle. Do try to look casual, and go where he takes you. The details will be given then.


Baron Myles of Olau.

Kel, who had glanced at the bottom to read the name before starting the letter, finished and pushed the letter to Joren, who picked it up for a second scanning.

"The seals are real." She said. Arlin observed, with some admiration, that she was only a little pale, managing to contain the other signs of shock.

"Mmm hmm." Joren muttered, fingering them.

"But it's impossible."

Joren looked up.

"I agree. The seals are real but the letter could be forged. Before we left I saw no signs of any of what is mentioned."

"It is in his hand. And this is vhy ze war vith Scanra keeps dragging on, why it's taken us such a long time to realise vhat the King had done. After all, who really vatches what the King does in his spare time?" Arlin said.


"Precisely. No one suspected the King of vorking secretly vith ze Scanrans because we all thought that, vell…he's ze king. They think they know vhere he is every second of ze day."

"He could have been forced to write it." Kel said, referring to Sir Myles.

"Can you see Sir Myles allowink anyone to force him to do anything unjustifiably treasonous?"

"It's still not enough." Kel said, quite calmly. "You can't just waltz in here with a letter and expect us to believe that you're working for Sir Myles and that there's a huge conspiracy going on and that the King is committing treason. What about Rat and Keita?"

"Technically, he's not actually committing treason as he is in fact ze King. Kel my dear, I myself do not haf all of the answers. Zat is vhy zis meeting has been arranged in two veeks time. I don't know how your king managed to keep it from the Bazhir for vun, but he did, and he has been doink so for a vhile. Rat should be breakink the news to your Shang friend around now."

"What nettles me is the way they just expect us to side with them. What exactly is his majesty doing that's so wrong? He hasn't been a terrible king so far. They've given us no real details, only vague events. We don't know exactly what this man said, we, sitting here, don't know anything for sure. And I'm supposing that at this meeting in Corus, if we try to back out, we'll probably be killed." Joren asked, lounging back in his chair, still re-reading the letter. Kel watched him with an odd look on her face. Many conservatives would probably have taken the opportunity to side against the King, for the many progressive changes which he had introduced. Then again, siding with Roald, the King's son, was probably a worse prospect for Joren. He was far more progressive than his father. She could understand where he was coming from though. The way the letter proclaimed different sides, made it seem a little childish when you thought about it.

"Probably." Arlin said, shrugging, "You vould be a liability. But I may be able to do something about ze details you are requesting. I haf vun last thing to show you. Come viz me."

He stood and began to walk away. Kel drained her drink and got to her feet, whilst Joren straightened and tucked the letter into his pocket.

They didn't walk far, and the cold air and deep purple night sky were crisply refreshing after the smoky bar. They wandered in silence, their breath steaming in the air, through a few nameless alleys until they came to what looked like a very large wooden shack.

Arlin knocked twice on the door and murmured


A small eye-height section of the door shot back, allowing a pair of searching brown eyes to peer through.

"Wossat you said mate?"


"Not Swordfish?"

"Zat is vhat I said."

"Right…sure…sorry mate, no admittance, move along."

Kel stepped forward.


The guard eyed her.

"Well…all right then."

The eyehole shut, and the sound of bolts and keys being fumbled with came through the surprisingly well-made door.

"That was probably the worst guard I've ever seen."

Arlin shrugged.

"Ve don't have money for good guards and zis vun is new. I'm sure zey try zeir best. Just not very bright. And not too good at remembering faces."

The door swung open. The three of them tramped through, whilst the guard peered curiously at their faces. Arlin turned to him.

"My name is Mr Kornel."

The guard froze.

"You vill hand over ze special key to me now."

The guard dropped a few keys in his haste to pick out the right one from his bunch and hold it out to Arlin, who took it and nodded pleasantly, before turning away. The guard visibly slouched with relief at this. Arlin grimaced inwardly. The man hadn't even asked for proof of his identity.

"Through here." Arlin said, jerking his head at one of the doors set along the corridor.

Kel noted that the interior seemed to be well made, with sturdy doors and walls. Arlin inserted the key smoothly into the lock, and turned it. It gave a small click before swinging open. Arlin stepped through the doorway, and the others followed him, leaving the door slightly ajar behind them.

There was only one door in this corridor, and it was set at the very end. Arlin opened it with a new key produced from his pocket, and they all walked through, trying to take everything in. Kel felt paranoid and cold.

The sight and smell that greeted them was terrible beyond describing. The entire cell was lit by a single oil lamp, high up in the corner of the room, which somehow only served to make the light dirtier. There were no windows, only a pile of blankets and rags on the floor, in the middle of which was curled up a man. A man encrusted with old blood, and mud, and other things which assaulted their noses and offended their eyes. There was no hole in the ground for a privy, no bucket either. Remembering what Neal had told her about contamination in this way, Kel thought that the man before her probably didn't have much longer to live.

She gulped down the nausea, and strove to focus. Arlin nudged the man with a booted toe.

"Zey're here Gregory."

The man curled up in the rags, whom Arlin had called Gregory, looked up almost sleepily, through half lidded eyes. Kel saw that his eyes were surrounded by a sort of sticky infection, making it almost impossible for him to see. The chains around his ankles moved and chinked.

Arlin went to the side of the room and poured out a mug of slightly stale water from a chipped jug. He put it to Gregory's lips and the man drank eagerly.

"I have authorisation to let you out of here Gregory, as soon as zey've asked you vhat they need to."

Gregory stopped drinking and pushed the mug away. He looked up, the lines on his face betraying fear.

"Ask me?"

"Just talk to you, zey only vant to talk Gregory." The man made no reply, only stayed where he was, half lying half sitting, and stared into space. Arlin glanced up at Joren and Kel.

"Very vell. Gregory, tell me again the date of ze night vhen you vere captured and arrested."

The man licked his lips before naming a date about four months ago.

"Very goot. Now tell me, vith whom vere you meetink ze day before zen?"

Again, the man paused before answering slowly.

"A….A man who said he was working for the King…I do not know his name." The man had to keep pausing to cough.

"And vhat did he look like?"

"He only took his cloaking spell off at one meeting, and it was a long time ago…but…I remember that he was wearing old clothes, patched, worn, cheap. He…he had black hair."

"His eyes?"

"Blue. He…he stared at people a lot."

Arlin looked up at them.

"What did you discuss at the meetings?" Kel asked, hugging herself because of the cold, face stern.

"We…we discussed…we discussed the things he would be given…in exchange for the convicts. Magical services."

"A Killing machine? Like Blayce's?"

"No, no! Hah, something…much worse…more effective…than death. We used Blayce of Galla's theory."


The man wheezed and coughed for at least a few minutes before responding, once Arlin had given him another draught of water.

"What could…could possibly be worse than giving death to the living…but giving…giving life to the dead?"


"Advanced necromancy!" The enemy's soldiers reincarnated at our will…an endless army. No communicating with spirits…embodying spirits! And this time there's no weakness! There's hundreds of mages who know how to do it…they'd all have to be killed!"

The man's face was alight; Kel couldn't tell if it was with passion or with rage. She stepped back as his body was again shaken by drawn out coughs, as if being tortured.

"And why did this official need to hold meetings with you, why did the King need your services?" Joren asked.

The man wheezed again.

"Look around you…look to the west, where the Corinthian's are eagerly… waiting for a change to expand their empire. We're all next…unless we band together. An endless army is our only hope of defeating them."

"Who initiated the meetings?"

The man gave a movement which could have been a shrug.

"We received a messenger one day… telling us that we'd get the test subjects and slaves we needed if we met a man in Corus. Our spies told us that the man was reporting…reporting back to the palace each night, and was therefore a King's official. No one could work against the King right under ….his nose, his network of information is too tight, too closed."

Joren nodded, before he too fell into silence. A minute passed, whilst Gregory's chest heaved with exertion. He finally turned to Arlin when he seemed to have some breath back.

"You said you'd get me…help once they were…done!"

Arlin stood and opened the door. Two young men stood outside. Arlin muttered to them as they moved swiftly into the room, and laid out a stretcher, before beginning the work of slowly transferring Gregory onto it. It they were disgusted by what they saw, nothing but a slight wrinkling of their noses betrayed it.

"Zese men are healers Gregory. You vill be taken to our private infirmary here, vhere you vill be treated."

Gregory's skinny chest heaved as he coughed; he seemed to have slipped back into doziness again.

Arlin gestured to Kel and Joren to follow before leaving the room. They passed through the hallway and reached the first room again. The guard stepped by to allow all three to pass outside. The door was shut behind them.

"I vill give you a moment to yourselves." And Arlin strode some distance off and leaned against the wall. He produced an old fashioned pipe and lit it.

There was a pause.

"We can't be sure about anything he says." Joren said, looking up at the sky.

"I know."

"We should be sure before we get ourselves into anything and possibly ruin this mission."


"And we should check what the others know."

"So let's go back to the inn first."

"No need" Kel and Joren turned. Rat was striding up to them, as Keita stalked a few steps behind, constantly checking the surroundings for anyone.

"What are you doing here?" Kel asked, watching them warily. The relaxed camaraderie of the past few months was gone.

"Coming to find you."

"How much do you know?"

Rat looked around for something to lounge against and found a broken wooden post.

"As much as you."

His casualness did nothing but irritate an already tempestuous Kel. She remembered that he had been well acquainted with Arlin on the township. The letter – Another agent assisted us in leading you away.

"And have you been spending your time drawing us away from the country? Have you been working for Sir Myles? Is the King really…"

She couldn't say it. She couldn't say the thing that would make years of her hard work become uncertain. Her mind had been racing ahead since Arlin had first told them. If all that they'd heard was true, if the King really had been drawn too far into fear of their enemies that he'd starting employing Necromancers…if there really was a rebellion, then things could go two ways. Either the rebellion would be successful and Roald would be king, or it wouldn't…and the royal family would be killed. And Keladry of Mindelan would be stripped of her knighthood, forced to work as a barmaid or something. If the man to whom she'd sworn an oath to serve was a traitor to his own country. If the King was committing treason. If she even decided to participate in this rebellion. If this rebellion was even real. There were too many questions.

Rat glanced at her face, an assessing glance which seemed to take everything in.

"Yes, I have been working for Sir Myles. Yes, I have been trying to get you away from the country. Neither of you know how to react, can you imagine if you were close to Corus right now, what you'd have done? You'd be charging down there looking for answers. You'd probably have alerted the king. As for his majesty's activities, I know as much as you do. If you want more answers, there is that meeting in two weeks time."


"Had no idea." The tall woman interrupted, "But I know Sir Myles and he is one of his Majesty's eldest friends. If he says that the King is losing his mind…I'm with him"

There was a long, awkward silence. Keita broke it.

"Have you decided yet?"

Kel spoke first.

"It's all happening…too fast. It's come out of nowhere. It doesn't seem real."

"But it is." Rat interrupted.

"I don't know that."

"And you won't know much more unless you come to Corus with us. Your mission here is over, you read the letter. Enough information has been collected on the people we were sent to trail. You can't continue on a pointless mission for no one."

"We don't know if it's pointless." Kel's jaw clenched. "We don't even know if that letter was real."

"And you won't make things any more certain by doing nothing. You have to come to the meeting in Corus. It's the only place you'll get your answers."

There was another awkward silence.

"Who are you really?" Joren finally asked.

"An orphan from the Corinthian Empire. An agent rescued me from slavery and Sir Myles agreed to sponsor me."

"That disease you caught two weeks ago?"

Rat smiled weakly.

"Evidently someone found out about us. One of Steven of Cranmoor's men tried to poison me in prison, having realised that I at least knew more than I was letting on."

"What does he have to do with any of this?"

"You haven't read the letter completely Kel. He was connected with Gregory's master, he was the one who dealt with the convict prisoners. I discovered this whilst we were in Scanra. You were following that woman, we were tailing the mage, Zenith. We bumped into Cranmoor along the way, and realised what he was. We'd known for a while that someone was dealing with the convicts, but we didn't know his name. I don't think Steven of Cranmoor even is his real name, he looks Tortallan to me. Green eyes, brown hair."

"And you didn't think to tell us?"

"I thought you knew." Keita spoke up for only the second time. "We haven't had much opportunity for deep discussion lately what with running through women's baths and trailing across the sea on a floating town."

There was another one of those awkward pauses.

"Well?" Rat asked, when he felt that the silence was becoming too heavy to bear. Another silence ensued.

"I don't see what else we can do." Kel broke it.

"You'll come?" Rat looked from Joren, to Kel. Joren pushed himself up.

"There's not much choice Rodent." He turned and began to walk in the direction of the inn, disappearing in the smog that covered the area around Yaman's docks. Rat turned to Kel, who shrugged, and walked in the opposite direction.

"Where's she going?" He muttered to Keita. She grabbed his arm and pulled him away.

"To think."

Hmm…some badly written plottage coming in there. Please review. Mr. Review button does get lonesome.

Mango Sam: Thank you! I'm glad you and your friend are still enjoying this. Of course Kel is missing Neal and all her friends, but that's not whom the green eyes remind her of. I feel a strong urge to give a hint, but I won't, as I've already left a small hint in this chapter. I'm glad you're both still reading my story.

Oceanspike: Lol, your review made me laugh. Swedish? Really? Whenever I think of Sweden I get a visual of happy plump blonde children dancing around a maypole. Arlin seems more of a big haunted castle kind of guy.

CrystalLili: Erm…It's not Neal if that's who you're thinking. And yes, they should probably be reporting to Sir Myles around now, so we'll just assume that they've done that.

VampiricEternity: Thankee kindly.

Seasun: I'm afraid romance is something that I find hard to write, but I'll try!

MysticMoonEmpress: Thank you.

PsychoLioness 13: (When you reach this point) Thanks, it's nice to know that someone else's reading my story.

lil-saturn-goddess: Thank you for your review.

Imperfectionist ;D: Lol, I think you're being a bit too generous to me, although you probably had a hand in all of it. I've been reading your sequel, but I can't remember if I reviewed. And happy birthday! Slightly late, but hey. Oh, and I'm holding you to that promise of an update as soon as I updated!

LadyJenofNewYork: Why thank you.

Ossini: I can't believe how many people said Mr Deranged bystander reminded them of Neal! He seems completely the opposite of Neal to me. I can't picture Neal calling himself a deranged bystander to society…except as a joke maybe. Oh well, deranged bystanders do indeed rock, even if they are a little strange. Hope you enjoyed this chapter.

Kyrilliz: Hah, no one escapes from me. I can't wait until you get Nightmare's Appeal back up, I shall faithfully review every chapter. I'm considering redoing the first few chapters of this story, so I know what you mean.

Leafsea: Thank you.

Nawat Crow: Ouch! But thankee for the review, yes indeedy, as you can see, there's should be plenty more from Arlin.

Give bisexual horse a carrot from me :)

Makai-Tenshi: Thanks! Glad you're enjoying it.

Death Goddess Assassin: You're review nearly reduced me to tears, I feel so loved! Thank you! I hope that this chapter didn't disappoint.

Nolee of Stone Mountain: Bestest biggest review ever, thank you. We authors do indeed have a desire, and even a deeply embedded need, for long adoring reviews. I'm very glad you're liking this, Rat says he loves you too.

Aheh, about that bomb...I've updated, so d'you think you could possibly swallow that remote? Because, that ominous fingering is really starting to make me nervous fingers uncomfortably hot collar".

Mmm, I very much agree about Joren. I used to be not too fond of him before fanfiction came along. I was right about the chamber? My crystal ball was accurate for once! I should celebrate! Hope you enjoyed the update!