"Who's there?" The figure in the shadows asked in a deep, gruff voice. The arrow, half pulled on the tense string, hung poised in the air. The black hood hid his eyes, but his clean-shaven jaw was set. He shifted, growing impatient for a response. "Speak up."

               The two shadows in the corner shifted nervously. One stood up. "We- we sort of… fell… into the game…"

               The thief's eyes narrowed. "What game?"

               Inching into a standing position, the second shadow whispered to the first, "Megan… I don't think this is such a good idea…"

               "Shut up," the first shadow hissed back, "I'm thinking, okay?"

               With caution, the thief moved his hand slowly to an arrow marked by a red feather in his quiver. His gloved fingers felt the texture of the fletch at last, and with a deft, lightning fast move, the first arrow fell to the floor, instantly replaced by the brilliant blazing fire arrow. Light from the tip cascaded into the room, showing everything. The thief's eyes widened. "Little girls? Here?"

               The first girl, with her glasses glinting with reflected light, squared her shoulders. "Excuse me? Little girls? I'm seventeen for your information!"

               The thief lowered the arrow, but continued to stare in amazement, not so much at the two girls standing before him, but at the clothes they were wearing. They were so… so… bizarre… The bolder of the two wore a shirt that looked somewhat like a very short tunic, but with no belt, although she wore some sort of trousers underneath it. The tunic was a dark blue, almost black, with some sort of odd symbols on the front in a blood red. The trousers were fascinating as well, made of what appeared to be a very thick, coarse fabric, nothing like cotton or wool. They were a navy blue, and worn at the knees, so that in a few spots, the girl's bare knees were visible.

               The other girl wore similarly odd clothing, though her shirt on top seemed to be of a bit more elastic quality. Over that, the second girl was wearing a stiffer fabric shirt, with little red flowers splayed across it in no particular pattern. It was unbuttoned, and hung open loosely. Her trousers were not of the same fabric as the first girl's were, but of a rather tan, though not remotely hide-like, cloth.

               Both looked as if they'd fallen out of- well, the thief couldn't guess where. It was unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He stood up, with a completely puzzled expression on his face. "Who did you say you were?"

               "Um, well," the girl with the dark blue tunic said, shifting a glance at her companion, "I am called Megan of- of Fog's End, and this- this is my-"

               "Sister," the second one hissed.

               "-sister," Megan of Fog's End added slowly, "She is called- um-"

               "Daphne of- Haylin Crossings," Daphne of Haylin Crossings put in with an air of confidence.

               "Where do you come from?" the thief asked, still looking stunned. "You mentioned- a game, I believe."

               Megan of Fog's End cast a nervous glance at Daphne of Haylin Crossings. "Well, you see- we- we were brought here, accidentally, by- by-"

               "The Trickster!" Daphne put in avidly. Megan cast her a withering glare.

               "The Trickster!" the thief hissed, "You were brought here to kill me then!"

               "No, no!" Megan insisted, "No, Garrett, you misunderstand. We aren't supposed to be here at all- we got sucked into your game- that's all, we don't know how but-"

               The thief pulled the arrow taunt, watching the two girls with a furious eye down the shaft of the fire arrow. "Who are you to speak about Garrett, the master thief? Speak lively. If I release this arrow you'll be killed instantly."

               The second girl squeaked, and immediately hid behind the first. "Megan! He's going to kill us!"

               "No, he won't," the first said, keeping her eyes right on him, "He's right outside a guard house. I'm surprised you'd even think to pull out a fire arrow so close to a window! You aren't Garrett, are you?"

               The thief cast a quick glance at the window not far from him, extinguishing the arrow immediately in his quiver. He moved silently in the shadows to look out onto the street. "The guards are gone!" he whispered, almost to himself. "They've left their posts!" He turned his shadowed face back in the direction where the two girls had stood in full view a moment before. "How do you know such things? How do you know Garrett? Are you thieves as well, then?"

               "Who is he if he's not Garrett!" the voice of the second girl whispered in the dark.

               "I don't know! This is all so confused… Nothing's right… This isn't right! We're not supposed to be in this game at all, Daphne! We're supposed to be at my house, at the computer."

               There was silence for a moment, then something thumped on the stairs below. The unnamed thief turned toward the door. A shadow had fallen over the step. With a silent move, he knocked an arrow and drew the string back to his chin… waiting… alert. Someone outside fumbled with the doorknob clumsily. Finally, the guard threw the door open. The shaft hissed through the air and embedded itself in the guard's chest. He fell as silently as the arrow had flown. A squeak echoed from the corner.

               "He killed him, Megan!"

               There was a shout downstairs, and the sound of many boots began thudding up the staircase.

               The thief whirled his cloak about him, and edged onto the windowsill. He was suddenly aware of two figures pressing against him on the side. "What are you doing?" He hissed.

               "You aren't going to leave us here to be killed, are you?" the first girl asked, angrily, but with a hint of fear.

               "You think it matters to me?" He growled back, "I have to save my own skin!"

               The guards were getting closer. They were on the second story now.

               "Listen, we won't tag along with you or anything, but could you at least spare us a rope arrow or a slow-fall potion? Something to make us a little less helpless?"

               "You really are thieves!" he exclaimed. "Fine, I can spare an arrow, but not a potion. You'll have to make do with that."

               "What about your bow? Can we use it?" the second voice asked as the first took the rope arrow from him.

               "You can't have my bow!" he hissed, "You said you needed an arrow, so I've given you an arrow! I have to go now, I can't wait for you to try and shoot it! You should have thought of that!"

               "Fine, we don't need it," the first hissed back, "Come on, Daphne, let's get out of here."

               The thief rolled his eyes, drawing the flask of blue liquid from his cloak. With a quick swig, he downed the contents, and turned, poised to jump out the window. But he hesitated, watching the two scramble in the attempts to tie the rope and arrow around the pillar of stone separating the two windows.

               "Give it here," he said at last, in frustration, aware that the slow-fall potion would be wearing off any minute. He slung the bow and shot the arrow into the wooden frame circling the building no more than three feet away from the window. "You'll have to jump, but that's all I can do for you. So go! GO!"

               The first girl looked at the rope, her chest heaving. "It's too far! We'll never be able to jump that!"

               The thief threw up his hands in exasperation. "Then die, alright? There isn't much time, and there aren't any other options unless you plan on fighting your way out bare handed!"

               She swallowed hard. "Alright." Squinting her eyes, as closed as they could be without impairing her sight too badly, she launched herself out of the window, catching the rope with a grunt. "It burns!" she cried.

               "That's why we wear gloves, you idiot! Get down! Now, you," he growled to the girl Daphne, "Jump!"

               The door burst open, and the guards shouted angrily. "He's getting away!"

               "Damn it!" he shouted, wrapping one arm around the girl's waist, and jumping from the sill.

               For a few moments, they seemed as though they were floating slowly down the first story, but suddenly, they heard a noise that resembled something like air being sucked out of a plastic bag, and they began plummeting toward the ground fast. The thief began swearing, as he positioned himself to take the blunt of the fall. They struck the ground hard, not rolling to break the impact. The thief grunted as his back slammed into the hard cobblestone street, and he winced at the shock of pain.

               The guards' shouts were muffled as they ran back toward the steps in the building. They could hear them coming down the stairs. The girl, Daphne, sat up, wincing at her turned ankle. "Are you okay?" she asked fearfully, casting a quick glance over her shoulder at the thief. He didn't respond. "Megan!" she cried toward the figure leaping off the last few feet of rope. "Megan, I think he's dead!"

               "Is he breathing?" she asked, running over.

               "Yeah- yeah, he is!"

               "Then he's not dead," Megan groaned as she pulled his arm over her shoulder.

               "You shouldn't move someone if they've fallen like that!" Daphne said, "He might have broken his back! You could cause more damage!"

               "Shut up! He'll be dead if we don't move him! Come on, let's go!" Half carrying, half dragging, Megan began moving toward the open sewer system that flowed directly past the buildings. Daphne limped after her, casting worried glances back at the door of the building. She could hear the guards coming.

               With a splash, the three figures landed in the clear, neck-deep water, and moved toward a shadowed area. "The guards won't come down here," Megan whispered, "If we stay put, they'll eventually give up."

               "But what about him?" Daphne asked, casting a worried glance at the thief, who's head was barely being kept above the water by Megan's shoulder.

               "I don't know," for the first time, Megan sounded worried. "Look in his pockets. See if he's got a healing potion."

               Daphne dug around in the long folds of cloth in the cloak, turning up nothing but a small pouch of silver, a flash bomb, and a ring. "No potion," she whispered.

               "Well, he's got some money- we'll see if we can buy one somewhere…"

               "Or steal one," Daphne added slyly.

               Megan smirked. "You're getting into the game again."

               Daphne giggled, "So are you, Miss I-can-escape-onto-a-rope-arrow-from-a-window!"

               Although tempted to laugh at the voice in which her friend made fun of her, Megan restrained, as did Daphne. There were voices not far from them.

               "Come out, Me Taffers!" a thick-witted voice called through the ever-drawing night. "Here now! Here chickie, chickie."

               "What do we do if they hear us?" Daphne whispered.

               "What's that? Thought I heard something…" The guard drew closer.

               Megan pinched Daphne's ear and drew it close to her lips. "Not use to being heard yet, are you?"

               "Ow," Daphne frowned back, rubbing her ear once Meg had released it.

               The guard above searched around for a bit longer, but after a time, the two girls heard his footsteps disappear into the dark streets. Megan sighed openly, shifting the weight of the nameless thief on her shoulder. His hood, in the rush to escape, had fallen back, and strands of his rather long, black hair had come loose from the leather thongs that had kept them pulled away from his face. For a moment, his head dipped into the water, and Daphne quickly got his face out again.

               She looked at him for a moment, his damp strands sticking to his brow, and said in a rather soft voice to Megan, "He's rather attractive without the hood, isn't he?"

               Megan rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on! We don't have time for that, Daphne! We fell into a computer game, remember? He isn't real. In fact, he shouldn't even exist. For some reason, the game is not centered on Garrett, as we'd thought. There are other thieves in this place, along with, no doubt, other dangers. The Trickster, if it was his fault, is only one. And while I wouldn't put it past him to do something like this, I don't think he had a hand in it…"

               "What makes you say that?" Daphne asked, beginning to move toward the ladder leading to the main street.

               "I don't know… Here- hold on!" Megan hissed as Daphne's hand grasped the first rung. "I can't possibly carry him around on the streets. If the guards are still looking, we won't be so lucky if they spot us!"

               "Alright, alright! Follow me then, I have an idea where we might find some healing potion or something…" she began moving toward the other end, where the pipe system wrapped around a corner and out of sight.

               Megan eyed the curve dubiously through her water-speckled glasses. "Do you have any idea where you're going?"

               "Sure I do!" Daphne growled, "I'm not incompetent. I played the game as well as you, you know!"

               "This isn't a game anymore! I'm guessing, but I doubt we have the option to start over if we DIE. And if I remember correctly, you DIED a LOT. Let's try to keep this a little stealthier, and a little less- hmm- fatal. Could you try that, please?"

               Daphne giggled, and continued to move forward. "I'll try, I promise. Ouch-" she cast a doleful glance back at her companion, "And I've got something to tell you- things hurt here. I fell, twisted my ankle, and it hurts. Megan-" her voice trembled, "Megan, what if we can't use the healing potions? What if it only works for game characters?"

               The two figures in the back lagged a little, water lapping at their faces, and Megan, after some silence, finally said, "We have to find Garrett."

               The leader stopped, looking back. "What?" she whispered.

               "We have to find Garrett. He's the only one who might know if something strange is going on. He's the only person we can go to, after all. The guards already instinctively hate us, and we've given them no reason to think we mean no harm, and the Hammers, or the Mechanists, or anyone else won't believe us." Megan stopped, lifting the thief up again, and shifting him to her back, clutching both his arms around her neck. "And," she added, growled half choked by the man's weight, "We have to find out how we got here. That's the only way we'll figure out how to get back."

               "Right," Daphne agreed, then murmured, "Though you must admit, this is rather cool. Being thieves? Running around stealing things, killing people?"

               "Daphne. This isn't a game anymore. We're not just killing poorly animated artificial intelligences. We're killing people. Real people. With homes and families to go back to. And we've got homes to go back to as well. Who knows how long we've already been gone?"

               "Maybe time froze in real life, and only five minutes will have passed or something…"

               "And maybe it hasn't, and our families are worried sick, and are positive something terrible has happened… what will happen to us if they turn the computer off? Maybe everything here will cease to exist, did you ever think about that?"

               Turning her face away, Daphne watched the moonlight shiver on the surface of the water. "I'm cold," she said softly, "Let's get out of this water and onto the streets. We're far enough from the guard house now."

               She led the way to the nearest ladder, helping Megan to hoist the unconscious thief onto the cobblestones above. Silently, she massaged her ankle while her companion worked to get their newest companion back onto her shoulder again.

               "Sorry I can't help you with him," she whispered, struggling to her feet again.

               Megan shook her head. "Don't worry about it. You're hurt, too. Just keep a sharp eye out for people. I won't be able to move very fast with this guy, and you won't move fast with that ankle. Doesn't leave much room for stealth. Where are we going anyway?"

               "To the pub on that corner," Daphne pointed to the lights not far ahead, where there was a distinct buzz of commotion inside.

               "Are you crazy?!" Megan hissed, "You think we can bring in an unconscious guy, prop him up in a chair, and not look conspicuous? Oh! And let me add, he already went white after seeing our clothes! We don't fit in!"

               "Calm down!" Daphne hissed back, her eyes glinting mischievously. "We aren't going anywhere. I'm going to go in alone, you stay in this alley with him."

               "That's crazy! You're hurt. You can't just go-"

               A quick hand gesture killed the argument. "That's right. I'm hurt- put him down here- so it won't seem odd for me to go in and ask for a healing potion or two. Here, let me at him." She bent down and undid the clasp of the thief's long black cloak, and slipped off his boots. Then, after wringing out the water, she threw it over her shoulders, and switched shoes. When she pulled up the hood, her face was completely hidden.

               "Hey, that's not bad," Megan said, "but still- you're hurt-"

               "I'll be fine. I won't get into trouble or anything. Besides, you've done your part helping him, now it's my turn."

               Megan rolled her eyes. "Oh, so that's it. You want to do it so you can say you were the one to heal him or whatever silly 'I saved you' thing you can think of."

               "No, that's not it," Daphne hissed defensively, "I happen to feel that it's my duty since he get hurt while trying to rescue me."

               "Sure, that's it."

               "Fine," she said in a huff, "don't believe me, but it's the truth. Don't tell me you wouldn't feel responsible if he'd been hurt on your account!" Megan didn't respond, and Daphne straightened the hood. "Alright. This is it. I'll be back before you know it!" With that, she began limping toward the pub.

               Inside, everything was smoky and smelled like liquor, and when Daphne finally found a table, it was piled with used whiskey bottles and plates partially filled with foul looking food. Everyone in the place looked like they came from a shifty background, and none of them looked at all like Garrett. Though I suppose Garrett wouldn't be seen if he didn't want to be… she thought to herself, drawing the hood further out to cover her face.

               A busty waitress in a low cut wench's dress swaggered over to the table. "Kin I getcha 'a draught or be it a meal yer lookin' aft'?"

               "No-" Daphne realized her voice a moment after she'd spoken, shifting it quickly to a gruff tone, "No. I- er- be 'a lookin' aft' somemutt call one 'er dem healin' potions, missy, if'n yer understand."

               The waitress leaned in closer, her chest looking as though it would tumble from the bodice that kept it in at any moment. "Auw," she smiled a crooked, ugly smile. Several of her teeth were missing, and her nose looked a little off center. "I getcher meanin', sar, an' I donno if'n I kern help yer in tha' depart'e'ment. Less' yer mak eet worth me' while…" She chuckled, deep and throaty, in a truly detestable manner, and Daphne had to hide the disgust in her voice at the overpowering smell of liquor on the woman's breath.

               "O, I kin mak eet worth yer while, missy," Daphne said, dropping the purse of silver on the table, but keeping her hand over it. This lady will rob me blind if I don't watch her. "But I wan' yer werd as ah strong woman ter get me what I ask."

               She smiled her nasty grin at the stranger who was Daphne. "Sher thing. Ye's got me word. Now, hand o'r the money."

               "No, the good's ferst." Daphne closed her hand around the purse.

               "Alright, I'll gets yer goods…" the woman continued smiling over her shoulder as she walked toward the back of the pub toward the bar. Something wasn't right. She had gone over to the bartender, and was talking avidly to him about something, casting knowing glances over in Daphne's area.

               She picked up two small bottles of a golden liquid, and placed them into her bodice, before swaggering back over to the table. The bartender motioned for three men to draw near, and he pointed toward the waitress. The three shady men looked over at Daphne. Daphne felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

               "I got's yer goods, missy, naw hand or' the purse." The waitress's smile broadened. Something was definitely up.

               "Put 'em on the table, an' ye'll get the purse."

               The three men had come up behind the waitress, dark looks covered their faces. "Step aside, Quanda," the leader of them said, not waiting for her to move of her own accord before pushing her brutally out of the way with his massive, trunk-like arm. "I hear we got's ourselves ah liar, boys."

               Daphne moved to pull the purse back into her cloak, but the man's hand pinned her arm to the table. "Not just yet, missy."

               "Yer tamperin' with the wrong feller," Daphne tried to growl, but her voice quivered.

               "Well, maybe we would be if ye's were ah feller," he grinned in much the same manner as the waitress. "But ye's a wench. Quanda say she saw yer hand. And lookit here," his eyes fell to the hand clutching the silver, "she were right. It's too small and dainty to be ah man's hand." With a move like the strike of a viper, he threw her hood back and knotted his hand in her hair. Daphne winced. "And she were right, o were she right."

               "Let go!" Daphne yelled, her fear heightening along with her anger. Her hands! Why hadn't she taken the thief's gloves too?

               "Not jest yet, not jest yet. I'd like to know what a pretty gerl like you's doin' all alone in this here city. You ain't one of the bar maids, and you ain't one of Johnny's wenches on the street, so you's gots to be someone new. And from the looks ah you, someone important."

               "That's what you think?" she demanded, "Well, sir, you'd be wrong. I'm nothing more than a street urchin. Not more than this silver to my name, and I stole it off some guy I found floating in the river. If you're expecting ransom-"

               The burly man laughed a great, booming laugh. "Ransom? Come naw, ye think that's what we'r aft'? It'd be more fun tah jest kill yah and leave yer body somewhere on the street." He reached behind him, releasing her arm, but keeping a tight grip on her hair. From the back of his belt, he pulled out a long, cruel looking dagger.

               "If yeh cutt'em at the throat, they don' make no noise, see? Don' want to attract no guards, naw do we? Might be out lookin' for a gerl like you…"

               That's true enough! Daphne thought with irony.

               The man brought the blade up to her throat. "It's been a pleas'ur doin' business wich yer, missy."

               Megan sat quietly, staring at the moon and stars. Nothing looked familiar. It wasn't like she knew any of the constellations anyway, even if she'd been looking at the sky above her house. I was supposed to learn that next year in astronomy, she thought, looking away and resting her cheek on her drawn up knees.  Don't think that'll happen now. Who knows? We're probably going to find that there is no way back. Some stupid trick sucked us in, and no one will ever know. Our faces will be on milk cartons years from now, and people will look at them and say, 'isn't that sad? At seventeen, gone.' And the police will stop looking for us. And our families will forget us.

               A tear pearled up in the corner of her eye, and just as it threatened to fall, the thief shifted and groaned. Crushing the tear into oblivion, Megan crept to his side in the shadows.

               "I won't tell you anything," he managed to whisper hoarsely.

               "Shh!" Megan hissed, "You don't have to! You're safe, for now."

               "I can't- shit!" he gritted his teeth in pain, "Everything hurts! And I'm- wet…"

               Megan looked up suddenly, listening intently to the night. Footsteps were drawing near, and with the steps, a low voiced conversation about a thief escaping by the guard house.

               "Come on," she whispered, barely audible, as she grabbed the thief by his armpits and began dragging him toward the back of the alley. The footsteps were nearly at the entrance now. The thief was in serious pain, she could tell, but he kept silent amazingly well.

               When she'd backed up so far into the alley that she bumped into the wall, Megan lowered the thief slowly to the ground. He let out a sharp gasp, but that was all. In the dim light she could see his face contorted in pain, tiny silver tears streamed down the creases of his young face, but he remained absolutely silent. His chest was heaving painfully, but he focused his eyes and grit his teeth in a clear show of determination to manage.

               The guards at the end of the alley stopped, and they could be heard clearly.

               "Well, good night, Larry. I'll see you on tomorrow's shift," the one closest to the alley said.

               "Sure thing, Paxton, see you then." And the other guard walked on until his footsteps disappeared.

               The other guard stood waiting, then turned down the alley. Megan swallowed hard, her heart began racing. She tried to pull the thief in closer, so the guard wouldn't step on his legs, but there wasn't any more room. The guard walked up directly next to them, and he pulled something that jingled from his pocket. He jingled it for a moment, and Megan prepared herself to be attacked with iron cuffs and chains. But nothing happened. Then quite suddenly, there was a click, and to her horror, Megan realized they were not in an alleyway, but a walkway to the front door of a home!

Light from inside cascaded over them, blinding them. They sat in the brilliant light for a few silent moments, until things began to settle back into sight. The guard stood looking right down at them.

"What's all this?" he asked, gazing at them with surprise.

Megan couldn't think of a thing to say. They were caught! "Please don't hurt us," she finally said at last, "We didn't mean to cause your men trouble! Honest we didn't!"

"Speak for yourself," the thief managed to growl.

She kicked him lightly in the shoulder, just enough to make him bite down hard and gasp for air. "Can't you see we're no threat to you? What does it matter if you let us go? It can't mean that much to you! Maybe we can strike a bargain. Maybe in exchange for us, we can catch two more thieves…"

"So you're thieves, then," the guard called Paxton mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "You know, this could mean a promotion for me if I turn you in." But it didn't sound as if he planned on carrying out his thought.

"Please, please let us go. We mean no harm, honestly," Megan pleaded, jabbing the thief again before he could make another comment.

The guard watched them for a moment and then said in a gentle voice, "I can't possibly let you go in your condition. You both look like drowned rats. And, since I'm off duty, and I don't like to bring work into my home, I won't turn you in tonight. Stay here, and tomorrow, after you're rested and patched up, we'll see." He then went over to the thief, who still lay, looking thoroughly confused, and the man named Paxton lifted him to his feet, holding one arm over his shoulders.

"Paxton! Paxton, we heard about the thie-" a stout woman bustled up to the doorway and stood gawking at the odd sight. "What on earth-!"

"I found these two out on the street, badly beaten by some muggers, it seems. This poor fellow seemed to get the brunt of it, but his sister here- she stayed with him, and it seems she managed to pull him out of the river where the muggers' had tossed him." Paxton helped the thief into the kitchen and propped him up by the open fire under the large soup kettle.

"Oh, my heavens!" Mrs. Paxton gasped, immediately going over to Megan and patting her on the shoulder. "You're soaked to the bone, my poor courageous dear! Come, come, let me get you in some dry clothes. We haven't much to spare, but my oldest daughter just got married to a rich man, so I do have dress or two of hers that might fit." She pulled Megan along with her arm, and drew her into a back room. There was a single bed there, with a small body lying in it, snoring peacefully.

"Right over here," the woman whispered, "and please try to keep your voice down, Otto's sleeping." The little boy stirred in his sleep a bit, and then fell quiet again.

The woman withdrew a dress from the drawers of an old boudoir, and held it up to Megan as if to visually measure the size. "I think that'll do nicely," she said with a smile. "Here, put it on, I'll make sure none of the boys come in." Megan cast a quick glance at the sleeping figure on the bed. "Oh, don't worry," Mrs. Paxton smiled, "Otto sleeps like the dead, and he don't wake until he wants to."

Megan kept a close eye on him, all the same, as she stripped down and got herself into the dress. It fit decently, not perfectly, but well enough to work. She bundled up her clothes and hid them behind her back. The slight chance that her odd clothes hadn't been noticed at first while wet was just luck, she wouldn't give them another chance to see it. Mrs. Paxton looked out the door, then began clicking her tongue at something in the kitchen.

"No, no! Paxton! You don't stir the soup like that!" She bustled out of the room, leaving Megan to attempt lacing the back of the dress by herself.

As she stretched her arms behind her, Megan looked down at the bed and saw the little boy sitting upright, watching her. She was so shocked, she jumped a bit, and turned her back to him immediately. "How long have you been awake?" she hissed.

He shrugged. "Long enough."

Megan flushed. He seemed to pick up on the silence. "You shouldn't be ashamed, you've got a nice body."

"Why you cheeky little pervert!" She hissed, clenching her fists. "You're lucky this dress isn't laced up or I'd- I'd-"

"My goodness, what is the commotion in here- oh! Otto! You're awake." Mrs. Paxton put her hands on her hips.

"Smelled the soup," Otto said.

"You and your stomach!" Mrs. Paxton chuckled, "Now get along! You can't be watching us women folk back here!"

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, and obediently left the room.

"A good boy, that one," his mother said beaming, "Come now, let me do these laces for you."

The little boy came out into the kitchen with the other two men, looking positively pleased with himself. While his father's back was turned, he looked over at the thief with a smirk and whispered, "Got yourself a good woman, you do. Wouldn't mind her rescuing my butt sometime." He gave the thief a tremendous wink.

The thief leaned back in the chair, rubbing his head with his one good arm. "This is too wrong for words," he sighed, half to himself. "Why didn't I just jump when I had the chance?"

"Here you go," Mrs. Paxton said as she came into the room, followed by the somewhat self-conscious Megan. When the dress was properly laced in the back, it fit her quite well, though there was so much skirt to the dress, she felt a little lost in it. The thief managed to turn his head a bit to look, his eyebrows raising ever so slightly, until he turned his face back to the fire.

"I've found a flask of healing potion, kept it for some time in case Paxton needed it," the woman said as she came over to his side. "Here you are, dear. Oh, you poor thing. Well, you take this, and while it's working, I'll go see if we've not got something you can wear until these things are dry." When she smiled, little crow's feet extended down her face, and Megan noticed the few gray hairs at the woman's temples. With a huff, she hustled into the room adjoining the room Otto had been sleeping in.

The thief winced, lifting the flask to his lips to down the liquid. It seemed to help the moment he took it. The color slowly faded back into his cheeks, and his brow, which had been creased with pain, relaxed. He sat, eyes closed, silently as the potion did it'd job, and when it had finally finished, he slouched forward and placed the empty flask onto the table.

"Thanks," he grunted, lounging back in the chair, and with a ceremonious gesture, he pulled out the leather tie from his hair and began slicking it back again, tight across his head. When he had gotten it as he liked, he bound the hair up again, and looked about the kitchen.

The guard, Paxton, was stirring the soup again, this time in the proper manner that Mrs. Paxton had shown him, and he looked positively cheerful. "We don't get guests much," he smiled over at the thief, "Not even of your kind."

"Your kind?" Otto asked with a curiously impressed look at the thief. "Dad, you don't mean this guy's a- a-"

Paxton frowned at his son, putting a finger to his lips. "Hush! You want your mother to find out! And not a word out of you to anyone about this!"

Otto nodded solemnly, but continued to regard the thief with a look of something like awe.

"So now," Paxton said at last, "We can't simply be calling you 'you', so how about some names, eh?"

Megan cast a glance at the thief. He shrugged. "Raife," he said at last, "Just Raife. No parents, not really, anyway."

"Megan," Megan said, looking at Raife, "Megan Johnson."

"Well," Paxton said, "It's a pleasure to have you among us Raife and Miss Megan."

Megan glanced over at the guard. "We've got another friend with us, too," she added. "Her name is Daphne Darson. She went over to the pub a while ago- oh, what if she can't find us when she gets back?!" Megan wrung her hands unconsciously. "Would it be alright if I went and waited for her at the corner?"

"Certainly, certainly," Paxton nodded, "Though perhaps I should go with you… even for- well- people like you, these streets are dangerous at night for a young lady."

He began to stand up, but the thief put out his hand, rising himself. "No, I'll go with her."

Megan was already out the door and to the corner by the time Raife got away from the fire. She stood in the silver moonlight, watching the pub in the distance. The thief came up silently beside her, leaning against the stonewall as he crossed his arms and closed his eyes. She didn't seem to notice him.

"Would you stop fidgeting?" he demanded all of a sudden, throwing out a hand to stop her ever-wringing hands. Megan looked down at his hand, still gloved in black leather, as it gently covered hers. As quick as before, he withdrew the hand and crossed his arms again. "You're making me edgy with all that moving."

"Sorry," she whispered, looking back to the pub. Everything seemed really quiet. "I just get the feeling something very bad has just happened."

"Give it a few minutes, it'll probably pass." After a few seconds, Megan dared a glance back at Raife, but his eyes were closed and he looked almost as if he were sleeping while he stood.

"Some comfort you are," she murmured under her breath, surprised when he cracked an eyelid and smirked.

"I never said I was trying to comfort you."

Megan frowned and turned her back to him, walking a ways further into the street. "Incorrigible!" she whispered again.

"Not entirely," he said aloud back.

His hearing is amazing, she thought, unwittingly casting a glance in his direction to check that he hadn't been able to hear her thoughts as well.

Daphne scrunched up her eyes, waiting for the smooth slicing movement of the blade across her throat. Then quite suddenly, there was a shout from behind and something like a candlestick came flying out of nowhere, striking the big brute in the back of the head. He slumped to the table, dropping the knife into Daphne's lap. With a quick grab, she snatched it up, and stumbled back from the table. The moment the blunt object had struck, and the first victim fallen, the entire bar went into a rage, though not at anyone in particular. Plates started flying, patrons whipped out knives and daggers of all sorts, and everyone attacked everyone else.

Someone ran into Daphne where she stood. "Come on," a young voice said musically, "This way! This way!" The young barmaid pulled Daphne out the back door and into a dark alley. She smiled, gasping for breath. "Are you alright?" She asked, smiling sweetly. Daphne felt awkward all of a sudden.

"Yeah, fine."

"I knew you weren't an old man, you've got a youthful voice. Though it's a handsome one!" She lifted her hand to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. "Do you mind if I-" her hand reached up suddenly, and pulled the hood back. She gasped, flinging her hand to her mouth. "You're a girl!"

Daphne pulled away from her, "Of course I am!"

"Oh, no! Oh, no!" The maid pulled away, blushing terribly. "I'm- I'm so embarrassed! Excuse me, I didn't mean…"

"Forget it. Thanks for getting me out, all the same." Daphne brushed a few crumbs from a thrown dish off her shoulder. "Well, thanks, I guess. I need to be going."

"You're hurt…" the maid's hand had dropped to her bottom lip. "Didn't you need…"

"Healing potions, yeah, I do. And still do. I guess I'll have to wait, now…"

"I could get you one or two," the maid said, "I feel it's the least I can do for- for, well, thinking you were a…"

"Don't bother with more than one, if it's too much trouble. I have a friend who needs it more than me."