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“Hush,” the man said without turning around. “I’m working.”

She came and stood right next to him. “I can see that. Whatcha gonna do? Smash and grab?”

He crouched down and took one more good look. Then he stood up, still not turning. “Well, I would have to assume,” he said, “that, contrary to my personal preferences, you are not going to turn out to be a fevered dream brought on by my recent sea voyage. So.” He turned around and fixed her with a flat glare from his very pale blue eyes. “Ryel.”

“Old man.”

“Funny, from you, aren’t you five million years old or something?”

“Or something.” They glared at each other for some seconds more. “So if you’re done here for now with your work, if you’ve earned your fifteen minute coffee break, shall we go chat somewhere, somewhere where I can use your name in a conversational tone? Is there anywhere like that?”

“Maybe in one of the deeper caverns, Ryel,” said Thaeron. He walked past her quickly, went six paces toward the arched corridor to the outside, then stopped. “Coming?” he asked the air around him.

“I’m right with you,” said Ryel, coming up to stand next to him. They continued to face forward, not turning to look at each other. “Can we collect my dwarf?”

“You have a dwarf.”

“I seem to have picked one up, yes. He keeps saving my life.”

“How nice. You always worked alone, but perhaps that’s why you were never especially successful at what you did. Perhaps you just needed to team up with someone who could bring some competence to the table.”

“You should try it yourself.”

“I work better alone.” Finally he turned a quarter turn to look straight at her. “Would you prefer a dive, or something on the three star side?”

“Oh, a dive,” said Ryel.

“I thought so.” He smiled a tiny smile. The two turned and resumed walking. “The easier to lose your dwarf,” said Thaeron. “Is that him?”

The three of them, Arkmar the dwarf, Ryel the elf maiden and Thaeron the human, left the great courts of the city of Baharna, turned in the plaza and started up the sloped streets of the ridge side. Thaeron and Ryel did not speak, but they both seemed to know where they were going. Suddenly, as they turned on a side street, Thaeron bent slightly to the side and said to Arkmar, “My friend tells me you are a dwarf.”

“You are very observant, my good—well, I can’t make the usual offer of service without knowing to whom I am offering it, correct?”

“My name is Mister Man,” said Thaeron. “Now if that is correct, and you are indeed of the Iron Kindred, then there is something you should know.”

“Is it about you?” asked Arkmar.

“No, it is not. My friend,” and Thaeron stopped completely and looked down a few inches into the dwarf’s dark eyes, “I want you to know that even though I, indeed, am honored to be a paid member of the Guild of the greatest of professions, in that I am a thief, I am not the thief who stole the Knife and the Chalice.”

“The Knife and the Chalice?” replied Arkmar, trying not to lose his distrust of the man before him, but preserving those initial capital letters.

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Thaeron, while Ryel looked at him with a slight smile. “It’s not that I do not covet such things as these. But I would be too concerned about retribution. I will steal from warriors and priests and wizards and beasts, but from the great houses of the Dwarves? They may not be speedy but they do not give up the chase. And their hands are heavy. Do I not speak the truth?”

“Of course you do, get on with it,” said Ryel.

“Elf,” said Arkmar, “please to stay out of this for just a moment while I figure out what if anything this fellow has to tell me. So you are definitely saying that the Knife and Chalice have been stolen? From the House of the Kindred?”

“Here in town,” said Thaeron. “But please. Do not take my word. Go ask at the House.”

“He’s just trying to get rid of you,” said Ryel. “Send you off on a wild goose chase.”

“Then come,” said Thaeron, “that’s most likely true, so come have a beer or two with us and don’t think about it anymore.” The thief smiled his little smile at Ryel, then strode past her. Eight paces on he turned, gave them both a smile, and went down a few steps into a tavern whose sign proclaimed its name as “Tavern.”