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May 11th, 2004, 11:28 PM
"What time is it?" Boldar lay in the dark, his voice petulent.

"I don't know, big man, but it feels like we have slept a night through, and I hear sounds down in the common room. So shut up, get up, and let's get moving." Mya was finishing getting dressed.

"Fine." Boldar lumbered out of bed and began to dress. "Mayhap she knows we are looking for her by now... never know if we don't get out and have a look around."

"That's the spirit!" Mya belted on her sword.

Boldar turned up the lamp and looked at Mya, still seeing the illusion of a man, though for some reason he could sense Mya now, not just the illusion. It seemed strange that even in male form he knew her, wanted to be near her. He walked over to her and gave her an affectionate kiss on the head.

Mya blinked in surprise. "Oh now, starting to like my new looks?"

Boldar grinned. "In the dark, I'd never know the difference! But, even in the light, I know it's you lass. They eyes may be fooled, but the heart sees true."

Mya was taken aback for a moment, and simply rested her head on Boldar's chest. After a long minute, she found her voice. "Boldar... that is the single most poetic thing I've ever heard a man say about me."

Boldar held her close, his eyes closed. "Let me speak it even more clearly, since I seem to be on a good run... Mya, I love you. Never spoke those words before, and never will again to any but you."

A tear slowly rolled down Mya's cheek. "And I love you, you damned fool." She gathered herself. "Enough for now big man, we have Gina to find."

"Aye, that we do."

Four hours later, after several fights, and being ambushed by four slavers, Mya and Boldar were moving out of the caravaneers quarters and were entering into the outskirts of city center itself.

"After all that yesterday, no rumors, no hints, nothing..." Mya complained.

"Come now, lass, this is a big city. Even rumors can take time to reach the ears you want them to reach." Boldar replied evenly.

"Well, I don't see the point of wandering aimlessly. Let's just give it a day or so and keep checking back at the taverns to see if Gina has been seen or inquired of us."

Boldar shook his head to the affirmative, seeing no better alternative. They turned and began to head back when Mya gasped.

"Boldar, look!" She pointed ahead and to the right.

"I'll be damned if it isn't our friend Reed!" Boldar growled.


"Let's follow him an see what he is up to, and why Gina is not with him."

Mya nodded. "Yes, let's. Perhaps we can finally learn what Reed is up to. At least he won't recognize us..."

And Boldar and Mya in, appearing as two male caravan guards dropped in behind Reed, carefully ensuring he would not notice their presence.

May 12th, 2004, 05:35 AM
"Please, take a seat", Xhao suggested graciously, stepping into the centre of the room. "Welcome to my humble abode. Would you care for some wine?".

"Thankyou", Gravin said self-consciously, "I could use a drink, the stiffer the better." He cast a harsh glare in Juzzza's direction, then moved to a mahogany chair by the desk. Sitting down heavily, he looked at Xhao with curiosity.

The assassin picked up a crystal decanter and poured a richly coloured brandy into a glass. Gravin's hand shook as he reached for the glass. Gripping it firmly, he released a deep sigh and tipped the drink back in one go.

Juzzza reached for Mystiqe's hand, she wheeled away from him and walked over to Xhao. The rogue stared after her and found the dark elf assassin smirking at him. Feeling heat rise to his cheeks, Juzzza turned away and strode to take up a seat at the opposite end of the table to Lord Gravin. He fumbled in his jacket for his white clay pipe. Brown tobacco slid into the small clay bowl, lit by a flame taken from a burning candle. Drawing on the pipe, Juzzza closed his eyes. His breathing steadied into a slow rhythm.

Xhao laughed, pulling Mystiqe into an embrace. "It's good to see you again, Mysty. I must say, you could have been a bit more subtle on the way here...".

She looked at him in horror, arms around his waist. "You were watching?".

Juzzza spluttered, choking on tobacco smoke. His eyes snapped open, glaring at the assassin. "If you've been looking at my... umm, Myst...", he threatened, breaking into a cough.

"Easy now", Xhao soothed with a grin, holding his hands up innocently. "Nothing happens in Derudin without me knowing about it. I'm a master of observation techniques. Purely business, of course".

He winked at Mystiqe while the rogue's head was bowed. "Would you do the honour of introducing your companion, Myst?".

She glanced across at Lord Gravin. The human nodded his consent. Weary and drained, he suddenly appeared much older than his twenty six years.

"Xhao, i'd like you to meet Lord Gravin Longress from the Crystal City", Mystiqe said carefully, pausing a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing. "He's the leader of the ruling council for the Great Northern Kingdom. Juz stayed with Gravin and his twin, Danika, ten years ago, after taking the Kul'Tar from Derudin. He handed the Kul'Tar to Danika for safekeeping before returning here. Danika was...", she glanced considerately at Gravin, his fingers were pressed against his temples, eyes closed. "Dani came to our rescue when we were fighting Zalador's men in the plains. We owe her our lives, we wouldn't have made it without her. She told Juz where the Kul'Tar is hidden, but... she didn't survive the battle".

The assassin nodded gravely. "I'm sorry about your sister, Lord Gravin."

Gravin's shoulders shook slightly, his hand opened revealing the silver pendant. "So am i... she always was brave and reckless, single-minded in pursuing what she wanted... she'd have liked nothing better than to go out in a blaze of glory. Something i could never understand. I always knew she wouldn't live long." He sighed heavily. "It doesn't make it any easier to accept though".

"You can be proud of Danika", Mystiqe continued quietly, meeting the young lord's gaze. "Without her, Zalador would have razed Catfish Walk to the ground and more besides. We managed to evacuate the town because she stopped one flank of his army single-handedly."

Startled by the calmness of her words, Juzzza looked at Mystiqe's profile, caught in the light of the red lanterns. Sleek ebony skin, a startling cascade of tumbling white hair and tight fitting leather. Blackened sword slung across her back. "I don't deserve you", he murmurred under his breath.

Mystiqe glanced down at him with a smile.

May 12th, 2004, 07:11 AM
"So, what now?", Gravin asked, regarding Xhao expectantly. "Do you work for the Emperor?".

The assassin shook his head slowly. "No, quite the opposite. I was... am...", he corrected himself quickly, "Tularis Yassassin's apprentice. It should have been Dargeth's position - Myst's younger brother - but...". He shrugged, looking at Mystiqe questioningly.

"Go ahead", she responded quietly, walking behind him to sit on the edge of a table set against the far wall. She drew one knee up, resting her arms and head upon it. Nervous and unsettled, her eyes flicked over the faces of Gravin and Juzzza.

"I've known Myst all her life, one hundred and thirty eight years. We grew up together", Xhao continued, pacing back and forth.

Gravin appraised the two dark elves. "I can never get my head around how your people can live for so long. You've both lived over five times as long as me."

Juzzza grinned at Mystiqe, whispering teasingly, "One thirty eight? You didn't tell me you were so young, honey."

Xhao laughed. "Juz is right, we are young by dark elf standards. Dark elves are considered to be the equivalent of children until one hundred and twenty years. I don't know how to work it out, but we'd be in our early twenties now if we were human."

"Which means when i met you, you were...?", Juzzza persisted.

"Seventeen... eighteen...". Mystiqe shrugged, looking aside embarrassed.

The rogue's grin broadened. He kept his eyes fixed on her, but she wouldn't look his way.

"Myst had two younger sisters and one younger brother, Dargeth", Xhao continued, addressing Gravin. "The position of Xa'Cha passes through the male hereditary line, so Dargeth would have succeeded Tularis, but he was...". Xhao turned towards Mystiqe for support, but she was still turned away. "... incapacitated", he finished lamely.

"Incapacitated?", Gravin queried, leaning forward in his seat.

The words washed over Juzzza, his thoughts drifting to the past.

May 12th, 2004, 08:27 AM
Juzzza walked into the training hall. It was empty. Neither the Master Assassin nor his daughter were present. A feeling on unease crept across his skin. Tularis was always punctual, never a moment late for their appointments. He threw his cowl down on the heaped pile of mats and began working out, punching a straw-filled training dummy.

Covered in a glossy sheen of sweat, Juzzza advanced to a wooden mannikin with rods protuding horizontally at different heights. He fetched a wooden weapon from the black lacquered chest, and began striking the rods, darting in and out, faster and faster. Still there was no sign of Tularis or Mystiqe. He danced and swirled recklessly, pushing himself to the limits. The manniquin rattled, shaking with each strike.

The door swung open, light flooding the hall.

"You're late", Juzzza said sharply, grinning to himself.

"Really?", the voice was cold and smooth.

Juzzza span around, crouching low.

A black clad figure stood in the doorway. The stranger walked into the training hall, boots clicking on the wooden floorboards. His face was young and chiselled, haughty and imperious. He strolled over to Juzzza, body lean and fit, muscles visible through close-fitting cloth.

Juzzza bolted upright, heart thudding.

"I don't believe i've had the... pleasure", the stranger oozed.

"Who are you?", the rogue demanded, eyes darting to the open doorway.

"I could ask you the same question", the dark elf replied acidly.

They stared at each other, neither speaking.

"The Master Assassin asked me to deliver a message to his... runtling".

Juzzza tensed, eyes hardening. "What's the message?".

"Training is cancelled - indefinitely", the stranger informed him venomously.

"Cancelled? Why?", Juzzza asked, looking at the insiduous dark elf with distrust.

Red pupils flashed with malice. There was no reply. The stranger glided across the hall, halting in the doorway. "If you need anything, human, you are to contact me. You are not to contact the Master Assassin or his daughter under any circumstances. My name is Xhao."

May 12th, 2004, 10:59 AM
The Assassins Guild lay deathly quiet. Illuminated by guttering candles and red lanterns, its corridors spiralled upwards, carpets the colour of blood.

Three long weeks had passed since Xhao delivered the message to Juzzza. Three weeks of solitary training, eating and resting alone, without company or conversation. Three weeks without the Master Assassin's provocation and endless demands that new techniques be perfected. Three weeks without his daughter's assistance, training together through the dark nights, continuously challenging each other to rise to higher levels of speed and skill, sharing meals and whiling away the long daytime hours.

Xhao had sent sparse instructions, seemingly delighting in lording it over the human rogue. Juzzza had probed the haughty dark elf, repeatedly asking, "How long will it be before i see them again?". Xhao had smiled, replying, "Maybe never".

Now, patience at breaking point, confused and uncertain, Juzzza crept along the labyrinthine passageways of the assassin's guild, searching for Mystiqe's quarters. She'd led him there often enough during the previous four months. It was the only place where he'd been able to completely relax, without fear of intrusion of discovery, without the constant need to be on guard, ready to fight or flee at any instant.

He missed the warm burning fire, hot meals, comfortable chairs. He missed relaxing to music in her lounge, playing fantasy board games and cards, reading books, and watching the lights flicker over Derudin from her balcony. He missed bathing in hot water and sleeping on soft cushions beside her fire. Laughing and joking, talking about anything and everything. Sleeping soundly, knowing he was safe and protected; waking up, knowing he was not alone... Discovering a side of himself he hadn't realised existed.

Juzzza stretched his back, muscles aching. Hard workouts, cramped and disturbed sleep, irregular meals and sheer... emptiness. He padded along the corridors, scanning the obscure door markings. "Can you pass a message to Mystiqe for me?", he'd asked Xhao apprehensively. "No", the dark elf had responded, red pupils glinting, "She doesn't want to see you again." His stomach had lurched, plummeting towards the ground.

The door was in front of him. He traced the red symbol with his fingers, slowly and delicately. Then knocked. The sound rang out, frighteningly loud. His heart hammered. He strained to hear some reaction, some movement, anything but silence and solitude. He knocked the door again, wanting to thrust it aside and stride into the familiar room, searching until he found her and... his breathing faltered, thoughts reeling, desperately wanting to reach out and pull her through the door, taking her in his arms.

There was no movement, no sound from within the room.

Scarcely aware of what he was doing, Juzzza drew his dagger and hacked open the lock.

May 12th, 2004, 12:18 PM
The lights were out. The room lay in darkness. Eerily quiet and still. Warmth and colour obliterated.

"Myst?", Juzzza called tentatively, closing the door behind him.

There was only silence.

The rogue strode across the room towards the balcony, throwing open the shutters. Blinking in the flouresecent light, he turned around, scanning the lounge.

His eyes fell upon the dark elf, sitting in a chair near the balcony, staring blankly into space. Ruffled and dishevelled, ebony skin pallid, motionless.

Juzzza knelt at her side, taking her hand and trying to warm her cold fingers. "Myst, what's up?", he asked hurriedly.

She stared straight past him, words falling quiet, almost inaudible. "Please leave".

"No", he insisted, hands shaking. "Not until you talk to me".

"We have nothing to talk about". Mystiqe's voice was cold, hard and frozen.

"You don't mean that", Juzzza persisted. "You can't. I'm staying here. I'm not leaving you." He gazed up at her, silently pleading with her to respond. "I've missed you", he said quietly, "The last few weeks... nothing's been right without you."

"Xhao can train you".

"I don't want Xhao", he replied, exasperated. "I want you".

Mystiqe flinched, pulling her hand away from him. "You're all the same", she mumbled, pushing her hair back from her face.

"The same?", Juzzza asked emotionally, reaching to tilt her head towards him. "I don't know what you're on about, but i've never felt this way about anyone in my life. I... I love you, Myst".

"Your kind can't love... you can't love me", she retorted, voice breaking. "You can lust after us, force yourselves on us... but love... no... we're just objects to you, to use and abuse, then...". Her body shook from deep inside. "Your b*****d friends, your precious Lord Anton... he sent Dargeth back here covered in blood."

Juzzza stared at her, shocked. He reached out, trying to pull her into his arms. She fought against him, struggling to break free, lashing out, hitting his arms and chest. Tears fell down her cheeks. The rogue held onto her, clinging on tightly, refusing to let go. She pushed him hard in the face with her left hand. He grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm back sharply. She slammed her other palm against his chest, over and over, nails digging through his shirt. He dropped her wrist, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her roughly.

"Myst, stop this, please".

She looked at him, eyes glazed, gasping for breath. "I'm sorry".

Juzzza's hands slid down her back, pulling her close. This time, she didn't resist, collapsing against him, exhausted.

"What happened?", he asked gently, stroking her hair. "Myst? Please tell me".

It was some time before she managed to speak. "My mother and sisters... Anton... he... he had them raped and killed in front of Dargeth".

May 12th, 2004, 01:56 PM
"Pardon?" said Reed, snapping to attention.

"What can I bring you?" the inn-keeper repeated.

Reed paused. "I'm not familiar with the elven cuisine. Just bring me something that won't kill a human outright, okay. And a huge mug of water, please."

The inn-keeper nodded and turned to go. Reed watched him disappear behind a door. He wasn't gone long. Reed hadn't expected to be served. He'd been kicked out of the other two inns he'd tried earlier on. Having eaten at Suzé's, he wasn't really hungry. But, for lack of something better to do, he'd decided to give some local speciality a chance.

A few moments later, the door opened and a young elf brought in a plate. The inn-keeper took it off of him and approached. Reed didn't believe what he saw on the plate.

"One Giant Slug in mushroom sauce, and a mug of water," the inn-keeper said, stoically watching Reed.

"Do I pay now, or later?" Reed asked.

"Later. I'm curious how you like it." The inn-keeper stood and watched.

Reed picked up fork and knife and cut into the slimy thing. He calmly shoved a medium sized piece of slug into his mouth and chewed. A smile began to form on the inn-keepers lips. Reed swallowed.

"Well?" the inn-keeper asked.

"It's interesting. An acquired taste, I should think. And one, if I may be so bold to venture a guess, not many elves have acquired, either." Reed put down the knife and fork and took a large sip of water. A mistake. Slime spread in his mouth. Somehow Reed managed to suppress his nausea.

The inn-keepr laughed. "You'd better have some bread," he said and beckoned. A female elf brought some, glanced at the plate, then at Reed. She shook her head, put down the bread and retreated. Reed took a big bite and chewed. After swallowing, he said to the inn-keeper, "I should have been more specific, shouldn't I?"

The inn-keeper sat down opposite of Reed, smiling. "I was curious. There are rumours spreading in Derudin, about you. You are one of the Poet's guests, are you not? Forgive me if I say so, but you do not look like a tool of destruction."

Reed smiled. "Looks can be deceiving. It would not be wise to attack me, I assure you."

The inn-keeper nodded. Then he said, "And you were right about the Slug. Not many elves can stomach it, either." He grinned. "You displayed distinctly human manners. An elf would have pushed away the plate and demanded something more reasonable, right away."

"Hah, yeah. Perhaps I should have done that." Reed took a small bite out of the bread. "I'm glad you served me at all," he added.

"Humans aren't the most popular race down here. You wouldn't believe the nonsense their spreading about your kind." The inn-keeper gave a short laugh. "They say you're mating with gorillas."

Reed shrugged. "Not utterly implausible, considering some of the human specimen I've met."

The inn-keeper laughed at that. "Well, know that not all elves are hostile to humans. I serve humans, and I still have elven customers. When the time comes to make a decision, I'd like you to remember that."

Reed raised an eye-brow. "You seem to know a lot."

The inn-keeper sighed. "These are troubled times. Did you know that Derudin is at the brink of a civil war?"

Reed stared. "Splendid timing, I must say."

The inn-keeper grimaced. "Yes. If it comes to that the humans will be upon us. They've swayed the ogres." A sigh. "Have you heard that Tularis Yassassin has come back from the dead? Raised an army and rode against Saerka Sharn? To aid human villages? Belaris is fuming. The emperor does not have a clear position. The populace is split in two. Once Belaris starts executing dissenters..." The inn-keeper shook his head.

Reed sighed. "Not the best time for a sight seeing trip, then, is it?"

"No. And then there's humans causing trouble, as well. Picking fights in the Caravaneer's Quarters. Looking for a friend of theirs, Gina, or something like that. But bystanders say that's an excuse. They just enjoy beating up people." The inn-keeper looked at Reed. "Rumours, huh?"

"Rumours," Reed repeated and shrugged.

The inn-keeper got up. "One more thing, these two humans over there, see them?" He waited for Reed to turn and have a look before he went on. "I swear, they have been watching you."

"Have they?" Reed squinted at the inn-keeper. "Well, thank you for the information. It's been nice talking to you. How much do I owe you?"

"For the slug?" The inn-keeper laughed. "You're my guest today. Just remember me when it's time to make a decision. We're not all brutal killers, you know."

"I know," said Reed, smiling.

The inn-keeper nodded once, and left Reed alone. Looking at his receeding back, Reed whispered, "Gilli?" It didn't take long for her voice to ring through his mind.

May 13th, 2004, 07:30 AM
"Dargeth was a wreck", Xhao concluded with a shrug. "He was only a boy... The three of us looked after him for the next thirteen months, we tried to repair the damage ... but it was impossible. He drifted into opium addiction and...". Xhao's hand fell to the hilt of his dagger, fingers probing the leather strips wrapped around its grip. "If i'd realised what the boy would turn into...".

The red lanterns flickered, casting shadows across the room.

"I... had no idea... about Anton", Gravin said shakily, staring at the assassin. "I looked up to that man as a child, hell, we all did. He was a friend of my father. A war hero...". Falling silent, he turned the pendant over in his palm, watching the interplay of light and shadow on silver. His gaze rose, taking in the female dark elf. "You must hate us...".

"No", Mystiqe replied steadily, meeting his eyes. She regarded him carefully, arms wrapped around her knees. "I hate what war does to people, both elves and humans".

"I'm sorry... for what i said about you earlier." The young lord's eyes were honest and open, etched with pride and humility. "I had no right".

"You loved your sister, and were hurt by what happened to her... ", Mystiqe said quietly. "I can understand that".

Gravin smiled sadly. "Quinot was in awe of Dani, she could do no wrong in his eyes". He turned towards Juzzza, struggling for words.

The rogue looked at him uneasily, resting his pipe on the table. The white clay stood out against the smooth mahogany surface.

Gravin swallowed hard, then spoke. "I shouldn't have been so harsh on you. It's so easy to want to find someone to blame, someone to hold accountable. I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault that Dani fell in love with you." He leant back, cheeks flushing crimson. "I should have said or done something when i saw the way she was chasing after you, but i was too... embarrassed."

Juzzza sighed, leaning against the table. "She was a wonderful girl, but i did tell her that nothing could happen between us, that i was in love with Mystiqe. I told her that i'd lived with Myst for eighteen months and that we were lovers but... Dani wouldn't accept that."

He looked at Gravin, chestnut hair cut short, hazel eyes hiding pain. So similar to his twin, and yet so different.

The young lord nodded, smiling weakly. "She always was stubborn".

"I... was young and flattered by the attention, it's no excuse but...", Juzzza hesitated, glancing briefly at Mystiqe. "Dani would say that she loved me and wanted to spend her life with me... no-one had ever said things like that to me. I was confused. I'd wanted Myst to say those things, but ten years ago she wouldn't even admit she cared. In the end, i had to leave in the middle of the night and trust that i was right about the Kul'Tar."

Xhao reached into the top drawer in the desk, pulling out a bundle of faded envelopes tied together with string. He tossed them across to Mystiqe. She caught them one handed, examining the water stained paper.

The rogue bowed his head, scuffing the blood red rugs with his boots. "I f****d everything up. I was supposed to stay detached, retrieving the Kul'Tar from Derudin. I should never have left it with Dani".

"Juz, the Kul'Tar chose Danika", Xhao stressed. "It was no coincidence that you ended up at the Longress residence. The Kul'Tar was designed that way. It's meant to be drawn to those with an affinity for its powers. Whatever the Kul'Tar did to Danika, she was able to guard it and keep it safe for all this time. Few could have achieved that. In the wrong hands...".

Juzzza's head shot up, eyes meeting Gravin's. A look of concern passed between them.

May 13th, 2004, 12:42 PM
Boldar and Mya followed Reed into a moderately nice inn near the center of the city. The dark elves had been looking at them with more distrust the further they got from the caravaneers quarters.

The inside was relatively well light.

"What the blazes is the man doing?" Boldar whispered.

"Eating a slug, I think." Mya returned.

"Is he actually that stupid? Oh god's, he ate some." Boldar sounded a bit sickened. "Slug is the most disgusting of foods, generally only eaten by the starving, and even then.."

They sat watching for a few minutes more, surprised to note that the innkeep was behaving in such a friendly fashion.

“Craps… I think the innkeeper noticed us staring, Mya…” Boldar whispered. “Let’s get back out on the street.”

“No, Boldar, I’m done skulking. Time to have a chat with Reed, and let him know we are here to get Gina. I don’t care what he is up to, but Gina should have no part of it.”

Boldar nodded. “Alright lass, so be it, let’s go say hi.”

May 13th, 2004, 11:50 PM
The two men - it was hard to think of them as Boldar and Mya although Gilli said they were - approached his table. The taller one sat down, without asking. The other one grabbed a chair from a neighbouring table and sat down as well. Both stared at him. Reed looked at them in turn. If they really were Boldar and Mya, who was who?

Reed was the first to find the silence grating. "I doubt you've come to ask about the culinary quality of 'giant slug in mushroom sauce'. In that case, I can't help you. It's the first time I had that. And, most definitely, the last."

"We've come to get Gina," the smaller one said. "Mya sends us."

Reed nodded. "Shall I wrap her up in a nice parcel? How would you like her delivered?"

They looked at each other, then at Reed. The smaller one squinted, the taller one glared.

"Well, you didn't expect your true blue eyes to convince me, you are who you claim to be, do you?" Reed folded his hands and layed them on the table, leaning slightly forwards. He smiled at them. "You might be old foes of Mya and Gina. You might try to blackmail the Loveable Rogue Inc. Shall I go on?"

The taller one scoffed. "And we're supposed to believe you care for her. Is that the meaning behind your words?"

Reed tilted his head and looked at him. Then his eyes opened slightly wider. He took his hands from the table, loosened his shoulders and leant back in his chair. His right hand went to a pocket in his robes and searched for something. "Actually," Reed said, as he dropped a small purse full of coins on the table, "she fetched a pretty good price at the local skin trade."

"You didn't..." The taller one jumped up, knocking over his chair. A dagger was in her hand, poised to stab, but she restrained herself, glowering. "Tell us where you sold her. Now!"

"Poor girl," Reed said. "We offered to drop her off at the castle, but she decided to come with us."

"You're lying," the taller one hissed. "Why would Gina do that."

Reed smiled broadly. "You're Mya, aren't you?"

Most-likely-Mya jerked upright. "What? You..."

Reed's eyes moved onto the other man. "Boldar, I persume?"

"No point going on with that charade, is there?" Boldar grumbled. "But how did you know."

Reed smiled. "I'd like to talk about my incredible powers of deduction and so on, but the truth is..." He paused, looking at both of them in turn. "The truth is, you did fool my senses. But your little illusion doesn't fool those who have no senses. Because they lack a body."

Mya growled. Then she turned to pick up her chair and sat down again. "I didn't enjoy your joke," she said sourly.

Reed raised his hands, then sighed and dropped them. "And I don't enjoy your sneaking after me," he said. "You could have just walked up to me and asked, couldn't you? But, no. I'm not trustworthy, so you autimatically assume I'm a villain." There was very little humour in Reed's look.

Mya stared at the table. "We didn't assume that. But you did take Gina. What are we supposed to think?"

Reed gave a wicked grin. "I'm pretty sure I asked Gilli to pass on a message, didn't I?"

"And are we supposed to believe that? You keep stressing that you can't be trusted."

"I do, don't I?" Reed shot her a weary look. "Has it occurred to you that I may, on occasion, say the truth?"

"Certainly, but..."

Reed cut her short with a gesture and a sigh. "Why don't you ask Gina, herself. Would you prefer to follow me, or wait here until I'm back with her?"