Chapter Three

"All right," said Jaine in her best business-like manner as she and Gabi walked through the streets of Laws-End. "We get out of Arden and go to that school in the North. We'll find it somehow, I guess… and…"

"Shut up!" Gabi hissed and threw herself back as someone tried to grab her. She instantly drew the dagger.

"Gabs! Gabs, it's jus' me!" Harak said defensively, holding his hands up. "An' I'm not gonna try ta kill ya, y'should know that! I 'ave a warnin'."

"All right, tell me."

"It's Gerron," Harak told her, his eyes flickering uneasily. "An' 'e's lookin' for ya. Both o' yas. Get outta the city, Gabi, an' take Jain with ya."

"Ya'd better go before he catches ya with us, then," Gabi warned him.

"Right. Gabs… be careful." With that, Harak disappeared as quickly as he had come.

"He's up to something," Gabi muttered, continuing their walk back to the Shill. "Gerron. If he's really looking for us, he'd have found us by now."

"Gabi, what are we going to do?"

"We're gonna go back to the Shill first, all right? Get some stuff. If they think I'm scared, I'm ruined in this place. Then… then I guess we're going to the North."

"You have no other choice," Jaine said firmly. "We have to get that necklace off of you."

Gabi stopped suddenly and looked sharply up at a nearby roof. "Thought I heard something, but maybe not. Damn it, I hate it when he does this to me!"

"Does what?"

"He plays mind-games, Jaine. Lets it be known that he's looking for ya, then takes his own sweet fucking time about following through. Meanwhile, every noise is a potential threat and ya never know if he's really serious. Gerron can make or break a Shill-thief as he chooses, and even I'm still not completely safe. He has a selection of people to play with, and I'm his favourite. Did this to me when I was younger, too, a lot more than he does now."

"What happened to make you two hate each other so much?"

"Always ya bloody questions!" Gabi snarled at her. "He's the best and I could be if he didn't stand in my way. It's nothing more than that. Now come on!"

Aronn called out immediately after Gabi knocked on the door to the Shill. "If that's Gabi, stay calm an' keep ya bloody dagger in ya pocket 'cause I'm openin' the door, okay?" A few moments later, the door was opened. "Ah," said Aronn, satisfied. "Enter. Just don't 'urt me poor door…"

"What's with you and the door?" Jaine asked him curiously.

"I've grown to come an' love it," Aronn beamed.

"When's the wedding?" Gabi asked sarcastically as she threaded her way to the stairs, Jaine following, as usual.

"Next week, an' you're not invited!" he called after them.

"What really happened?" Jaine asked Gabi in a low voice.

"Aronn got caught," Gabi responded. "Gerron broke him out of prison and stuck him on door duty. He's been there ever since. He was a good thief once, one of the best, but he's lost heart for it, and talent because of this. Out of practice. He's one of the few exceptions to the general rule of the Shill, because Gerron doesn't have the heart to turn him out. First sign I had that the damn elf even had a heart."

There was a polite knock on the door. Aronn, grumbling, opened it again and stared at the face of the stranger standing before him, a brown-haired, dark-eyed man who smiled charmingly. "Hello, is this the Shill? If so, could I possibly speak to Gerron?"

Aronn shut the door and turned. "Gabi! Get y'ass down here right now and explain yaself!"

Gabi stopped at the top of the stairs and looked down at him. "What?"

"There's a strange man at the door an' he's askin' for Gerron. Either explain it or kill him, I don't care which!"

"I'll sort it out for ya," said Gabi nonchalantly. She hissed to Jaine, "Stay here," before going back down the steps. Jaine, of course, disobeyed and followed the little thief.

Aronn opened the door again and Gabi studied the stranger uncomprehendingly. He gave her a smile of recognition. "Hello. You mentioned that the Shill was in Laws-End, and it wasn't really so hard to find."

"Do I know ya?" Gabi asked, flicking a quick glance behind him.

"Oh, sorry." His features blurred and changed, and Linn tried the smile again. "I think I could help you with that necklace."

"Why'd ya let him get so far?" Gabi asked.

"Sorry?" Linn queried, confused, then realised that she was looking behind him.

"He amuses me," Gerron responded, stepping off of the roof to land noiselessly in a crouch behind the Mostly Wizard. "Amuses and mystifies me." The elf's eyes flickered. "I've seen him around town. He's trying to call himself a wizard."

"A Mostly Wizard," Gabi corrected him. "And by the way, didn't I kill ya?"

Gerron shrugged, flicked a strand of his long and unwashed black hair out of his glittering emerald eyes. "I'm hard to kill. Racial standards or that shit. So, Mostly Wizard…"

"My name is Linn," Linn responded, watching him uneasily as the tall elf circled him.

"Whatever. For some reason, ya think that ya can get this – " in one easy movement, Gerron reached out, hooked his fingers in the silver chain around Gabi's neck and pulled her forward – "off her. How, exactly, would ya do that?"

Linn hesitated. "She would have to go to the Northern School of Physics and Magic. Are you Gerron?" he asked, then, at the elf's quick nod, he continued. "Do you know…? The necklace…"

"Yes, I know about the necklace, and I know it's important that we get it off her quick as possible. Ya can't cut the chain now, nor unclasp it."

"How do you know so much about it?" Jaine asked from the doorway.

Gabi swore and redoubled her efforts to unclasp Gerron's fingers. "Close the door, ya stupid bitch! I don't need the whole Shill to see this!"

Jaine closed the door guiltily. "I'm sorry – "

"And kick him in the balls for me while you're at it!"

"Ya do that and ya dead," Gerron warned Jaine, bending down a little in order to run his free hand down Gabi's leg and then take her dagger.

"Now ya die!" she threatened. "Nobody steals the fucking dagger!"

Completely in control of the situation, the elf ignored her. "Well, Linn? Why not Valirese? It's closer."

Linn spoke vehemently. "Oh, no. Not Valirese. The wizards there don't really know what they're doing, and their education is all set out quite incorrectly. The Northern School is much better. Trust me on this. What could you possibly know about the way magic is taught in schools?"

"Nothing," Gerron admitted honestly. "Ow!" He let go and brought his hand back, glaring at Gabi, who had bitten his wrist in a successful attempt to make him let go. "Ungrateful little – "

"Ungrateful?" she demanded, and it was practically a snarl. "Give me the damn dagger back, all right?"

"All in good time. Ya see, my problem is that I can't let two little girls run halfway around the world by themselves," Gerron explained to Linn, ignoring both Jaine's indignant splutter and Gabi's death-curse. "They'd get lost. Looks to me like they'll be needing a guide… someone who knows the North…"

The Mostly Wizard spoke with obvious reluctance. "I suppose I could go with them."

"Excellent." Gerron, smiling, handed Gabi back her dagger before stepping forward to shake Linn's hand. "We're agreed, then. We don't really need to pack, now, do we? The sooner we get started, the sooner we get back to the Shill, eh?"

"We?" Gabi repeated disbelievingly.

"Yeah. Ya didn't think I'd let ya leave Arden, let alone the country, by yaselves, did ya?"

"Um… yes," Jaine admitted, exchanging a glance with Gabi.

Gerron regarded her with some surprise. "Well, weren't ya wrong!"

"Come along," Linn sighed. "Gerron has a point. We had better get going."

Jaine woke reluctantly from her sleep. If she got up just yet, they'd have to start moving again in about an hour and she was sick of travelling. They had only been on the move for four days and she was already sick of it.

For one thing, none of them were really very well-prepared. Perhaps the Mostly Wizard knew where he was going, a fact that Jaine sometimes doubted, but she herself had never left the country, let alone the West, and was completely bewildered by all of the new things. They were fine for supplies whenever they passed a town – Jaine could steal for herself anyway, but not nearly with Gabi's or Gerron's level of skill – but Linn was trying to get them to ration their food, which meant that Gabi spent most of their walking trying to find plants that looked vaguely edible and declaring that most of them tasted bad. This quest to find edible plants was complicated by the fact that both Gerron and Linn had Elven blood and therefore required quite a different diet.

That was the other thing that really irritated Jaine; Gerron and Gabi in general. The two argued continuously about the simplest of things and generally made everything more difficult for the others. Jaine wished they would just get over each other and at least try to act civil.

None of the four were particularly good travelling companions either separately or together. Gerron and Gabi were too busy in their own little world; Linn tended to act as though he was superior; and Jaine, for her part, was desperately homesick. They had crossed the broad Strahan River yesterday, using the one, toll-free bridge and, according to Linn, still had a long way to go.

Jaine sighed inwardly and sat up in time to see Gerron put something in his mouth and wash it down with a few sips of water. "What are you taking?" she asked with her usual curiousity.

Gerron glared at her as though he were angry at being found out. "None of ya business."

"It is our business, considering ya brought yaself along on this little quest," Gabi put in, wandering over to Jaine. "So?"

"Ya'd never understand," Gerron dismissed them. "Are we all awake? Let's get on with it, then."

Gabi took the time to whisper into Jaine's ear, then called Linn over to explain to him as well. "No, I couldn't," Linn protested almost instantly. "That's completely – "

"Keep ya voice down!" Gabi hissed. "Look, don't ya want to know?"

"I am curious," admitted the Mostly Wizard, "but what you are asking is immoral and is completely against my – "

"Too bad," Gabi shrugged. "Look, ya don't have to do that much."

"I suppose," Linn said finally, his reluctance obvious.

"Right. Good. Jaine, grab him!"

Jaine used the element of surprise to grab Gerron and pull him down. She held one of his arms down, Linn rather gingerly took the other, and Gabi sat on the elf's thighs. She twinkled her fingers somewhat wickedly. "Right. Now, what do we have here?'

"What the fuck do ya think ya doin'?" Gerron demanded angrily, determined not to belittle himself by trying to struggle.

Jaine couldn't believe they were getting away with it and glanced up at Gabi, who grinned and explained as she started digging in his pockets. "Elves are tall, quick, generally graceful when they're not as dirty as this one, good at languages and can breathe underwater – don't ask me how that works – but they're weaker than faeries and very much weaker than humans. Jaine, ya quite strong, ya could probably hold him by yaself. I almost could. Ya just have to get him off his guard, and that's hard enough… hey! I've been looking for this!" the little thief cried angrily, studying the bracelet she had taken from one of the elf's pockets.

"It's not worth it trying to keep it," Gerron said honestly. "It's one of the few things of real value that ya've taken for a while, and I'll just steal it back. Anyway, I like it."

"You must be rich," Jaine said with amazement as she watched Gabi take out a handful of jewellery.

"Jaine, he's keeping these in his pockets," Gabi responded. "Does that answer ya?"

"I don't understand," Linn admitted.

"Thieves never keep anything of value in their pockets," the little thief explained as she dumped the jewellery on the ground. "Get discovered with these kinds of things in ya pockets and y'as good as dead. Now, let me see…" she continued absently, sliding her hands under the elf's tunic, unwilling to admit to anyone including herself how much she was enjoying this. "I have little hiding places everywhere where I keep anything of real value, and he'll have the same… ah," she breathed softly as Gerron shifted uncomfortably. "Now that's tricky."

"That's my family ring!" Linn said almost in protest, instantly recognising the small object Gabi had discovered. "I have been missing that for four days!"

"He'll steal it back if he wants it," Gabi warned him, tossing the ring. Linn lifted his hands to catch it and Gerron moved with all of his legendary Elven speed, elbowing the Mostly Wizard in the stomach and hitting Jaine, both with the arm that Linn had left free. He threw Gabi off and scrambled to his feet.

Gabi's hand went instinctively to her side, but found the dagger missing. "Shit!"

"Don't ever do that again," the elf warned her. "It's speed that will kill ya, not strength. I'll remember this, jes jereine. I'll make a point to." He tossed the dagger at her feet, causing her to step back hurriedly, then wandered by Linn, who was clutching his stomach in pain. Bending down to pick up the ring from the dirt, Gerron tossed it into the air and then caught it, whereupon it disappeared.

Gabi, watching him cautiously, crouched near Jaine to hiss, "Did he hurt ya?"

"No. Not seriously," the blonde girl responded, touching her cheek gently. "I don't think so, anyway. I don't think he was really out to hurt me. He just wanted to make me let go, and… well, he definitely succeeded."

"Well, as long as y'all right…"

"Yep. …Did that even do any good?"

Gabi grinned and, checking to make sure that Gerron wasn't looking, unfolded her left hand to show Jaine the four tablets resting on her palm.