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The Trouble Maker

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An aura of barely-contained magical energy surrounded Cordelia, making her hair stand on end and sparks fly out as the heels of her boots touched the cobblestones. Looking neither left nor right, she strode out the barracks gate and through the streets of the town. The guards at the gate prudently let her by. None of them wanted to tackle an angry mage. Pedestrians hurried to get out of her way.
She stopped at a small park at the edge of town, where she finally allowed herself to release some of her pent-up fury. She sent a bolt of fire at a willow tree leaning over the waters of a duck pond, accidentally incinerating a couple of ducks in the process.
“Damn,” she said, looking at the crispy waterfowl floating on the surface of the pond. She used a stick to retrieve them. No doubt the cooks at the camp could find a use for them.
“An impressive level of power, though your accuracy leaves something to be deserved. Unless, that is, you were actually planning on having barbecued duck for lunch.”
Cordelia turned around.
The speaker was a grey haired man in late middle age. Though dressed in civilian clothing, he had a distinctly military appearance. This was hardly surprising, since before he had taken on the job of civilian aide to Captain Jackstraw he had spent thirty years in the army.
Cordelia blushed. Using offensive magic within town limits was strictly forbidden and if Jackstraw heard about it, she’d be in even deeper trouble, if such a thing were possible.
“I saw the posting,” Parsifal said. “I don’t blame you for getting angry. You’re going to Avernum.”
The Empire covered the surface of the world, while Avernum was buried miles below. It was a series of caves accessible only through magical portals. Avernum was a place of perpetual twilight, lit by bioluminescent lichen and fungus. It was frequently wracked by earthquakes. A hellish place.
“It’s a punishment,” Cordelia said bitterly. “but I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been a good soldier. My loyalty to the Empress is absolute.”
“It’s politics, I expect,” Parsifal said mildly. “Probably spoke your mind a few times too many, upset someone higher up. Jackstraw wouldn’t have stood up for you. He’s not fond of mages and healers. Calls them a necessary evil. Of course, he’s even harder on the Slithzerakai and the Nephilim. He says lizards and kitties don’t belong in the army at all.”
Cordelia nodded, for Parsifal’s words confirmed what she had already suspected.
“It’s unusual for an aide to be so frank about the officer he serves.”
“Believe me, I’m not repeating anything that Jackstraw hasn’t said a thousand times in the officers’ canteen. “
There was a moment of silence as they both contemplated Cordelia’s grim fate.
In the old days, under Emperor Hawthorne, Avernum had been a penal colony. These days, Avernum was its own country, exporting alchemical ingredients and minerals to the surface world. If the Empire was rule-bound and strict, then Avernum served as an example of what unrestrained liberty was really like. It was a land of monsters and misfits, bandits, outlaws, fortune hunters, and rogue sorcerers.
“Do you know the other soldiers who are going to be your team?” Parsifal asked.
“I recognized one of the names: Aldous,” Cordelia said. “I’ve heard of him, though I don’t think we’ve ever actually met. He’s very popular in the barracks. He’s just the kind of soldier that Jackstraw prefers. Someone who uses his brawn instead of his brain. If this posting is Jackstraw’s way of getting rid of undesirables, I’m surprised that Aldous is on the list.”
“I suspect that someone else’s hand is involved in his posting. Aldous isn’t just popular in the barracks. He’s also very popular with the young ladies of the town. I suspect that he seduced the wrong young woman.
Still the captain will do whatever he can for Aldous. If your team succeeds, the glory will all go to him. If you fail, it will be the fault of the incompetents he was saddled with. I try to be a fair man, and that doesn’t seem very fair to me. So I’m inclined to tilt the odds a little bit in your favour.”
“What do you mean?” Cordelia asked.
“If you’re going to survive Avernum, you’ll have to rely on your team members. But how can you rely on a group of people you hardly know? That’s where I can help you.
Jackstraw has access to the personnel records of everyone in his command. Which means of course that I have access as well. Their life stories, their education and training, the reports of their superiors, all mixed in with a good mixture of lies, half-truths and speculation from the security services. Invaluable information for someone in your position.”
“Invaluable,” Cordelia repeated sceptically.
“Beyond price.”
“Still, I think you’re going to come up with a price somehow.”
Parsifal laughed.
“A favour – nothing too difficult. Tracking down my sister’s son. A young man named Rayven. I’d go down there myself, but I have a heart condition. I wouldn’t survive a trip through the portal.”
Cordelia considered a moment and then nodded. Parsifal put out his hand to shake on their deal. Then he and Cordelia sat on a bench to the side of the duck pond to talk. Parsifal had come prepared. He had a bag of stale bread crusts to feed the birds.
“Aldous is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. He’s the son of a farmer with a small freehold in the western part of Valorim. The farm isn’t big enough to be split among his two sons, so the father tossed a coin to determine who would inherit. Aldous lost, so he left the farm to join the army. He’s good with all sorts of weapons. He’s strong and tough and faster than you’d think, given his size. The main problem that you’re going to face with him is that he thinks of himself as a natural leader. In theory, you’re all equals, each one contributing to the success of the mission. You’ll have to remind him of that. Constantly.”
“And he’s a womanizer?”
Parsifal nodded. “Not that I think he’ll have much chance for those kind of shenanigans down there in Avernum. Avernite women hate the Empire just as much as their men do. Wearing the insignia of the Empire down there is like taking a vow of celibacy.
Then there’s Ssschah. I don’t expect that I’m saying his name correctly. My tongue is too short to speak proper Slith.”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“Not that much, unfortunately. The Empire’s network of informants and spies within the Sliths isn’t as advanced as it is among us humans. He’s a scout which means that he’s quite good at a lot of things and expert at none of them. His sergeant reports that he’s a superior fighter with pole weapons, as you’d expect from a Slith, and decent with bows and javelins. He also wrote that he’s a good with machines, which might come in useful since Avernites like to make cunning devices to blow each other up.”
“The Slithzerakai originally came from Avernum, didn’t they?”
Parsifal nodded.
“So he’ll be going back to his homeland. He’ll know their customs and the lay of the land, which could be very helpful, as long as he doesn’t forget that he’s an Empire soldier.”
“He won’t be much help there, unfortunately. He’s third generation Empire. He’s never set foot in Avernum in his life.
Finally, there’s Mycroft. He’s a priest and a healer. In my opinion, he’s the one most likely to cause you problems.”
“He’s a trouble-maker?”
“Not intentionally.”
“What do you mean?’
There was a pause while Parsifal gathered his thoughts.
“I think that I’m going to have to tell you a little story.”
“Is a story really necessary?”
“Yes, it is. This story won’t be short if you interrupt me,” Parsifal said, a hint of stern rebuke in his voice.
“First,there was a drought and then there were swarms of chitrachs. Two bad years in a row, and people were desperate. Farmers couldn’t feed their children. They’d come to the city and dump them like they were stray cats, hoping that they might find a home, or at least be able to live on what they could beg or steal. Feral children, they were called, and the good people of the city were outraged. It wasn’t so bad when they were little, but the cute little toddler begging for pennies was going to grow up. Five or ten years down the road that cute little tyke would be holding a knife to your throat. They were all criminals in the making.
A man who called himself Bishop Barkley had the answer. With their financial help, he’d get these feral kids off the street. He’d teach them morals and manners so that they could take their natural place in society as hard-working labourers and scivvies. The people opened their hearts and their purses, and Bishop Barkley built homes for these unfortunate children.”
“Mycroft is a member of this bishop’s order?”
“No,” Parsifal said. “He was one of the ferals. He was called Tom back then. No last name because he had no father to give him one.
Barkley lined his pockets with donations. The orphanages he ran were terrible places. The half-starved inmates tried to escape, but they’d be dragged back by the constables, kicking and screaming all the way. We heard all sorts of ugly rumours, but who can say what really happened behind those walls?
Mycroft survived a childhood in one of Barkley’s boys’ homes. Not many did; most ended up buried in the orphanage’s vegetable garden. He must be tougher than he looks. He’s bright too. Learned to read and write there, at a time when most Barkley kids could barely manage to scrawl an “x” for their names. He’s must have taught himself since I doubt anyone else would have bothered.
His cleverness helped him find a benefactor – an apothecary who took him on as his apprentice. Then the apothecary died and the business went to his nephew, so Tom found himself on the streets again. He joined a religious house, the Order of the Golden Mean. He became an acolyte at one of their temples and took the name Brother Mycroft. He left after a couple of years without taking orders. Whether he was expelled or quit, the records don’t say. Then, of course, the army.
“So hard work and perseverance triumphs over adversity,” Cordelia said impatiently. “Tom reinvents himself as Mycroft. Very inspiring, but how is it relevant? What’s the point?”
Parsifal made a dismissive clicking sound with his tongue. “The point of the story is to show a pattern of behavior. You honestly don’t see a pattern?”
Cordelia shook her head.
And women are supposed to be more perceptive than men. Mycroft has been looking for a place to belong for his entire life. He managed to escape the orphanage. He thought he found safety with the apothecary, but his benefactor died. Then with the religious order, but he didn’t fit in there. Now he’s joined the army.
You and Ssschah and Aldous have to make this feral street rat part of your team. Make this misfit fit in. Do that, and he’ll be yours for life.
If you don’t, he’ll join the Darkside Loyalists or one of those crackpot religions they so love down there. He’ll become the devoted disciple of some madman planning an underground utopia. Brother Mycroft has potential traitor written all over him.”
Cordelia nodded, although she was already wondering how much of Parsifal’s story was true. The civilian aide looked at her steadily with his clear blue eyes – if he’d been twenty years younger she would have fallen for him – while she speculated on his motives. Was he a Darkside Loyalist trying to drive the team apart before it had a chance to do its work?
"Okay,” she said, “consider me warned. Now tell me about this lost relative of yours.”

 

Despite weeks of diplomacy conducted at the very highest levels, the mayor of New Harston had declined to provide them with the transit papers as agreed. She had made it quite clear that they were unwelcome in her town. The town merchants, who ought to have been thrilled to get a bit of rock-solid Empire currency, had been surly and reluctant to serve them. The proprietor of the Harston Inn, the town’s only hotel and bar, had curtly informed the travellers from the Empire that they were full up. These glorious emissaries from the mighty Empire were currently sleeping in a barn that also housed several irritable lizards and a very nervous goat.
Aldous’s mission was not off to a great start.
Cordelia was still fuming at the arrogance of New Harston’s mayor. The mage seemed to have an infinite capacity for outrage. Aldous had been tempted to try his luck with Cordelia – she was very beautiful and very intelligent – but now he was glad that he’d restrained himself. Mages were moody, unpredictable, way too much work, and far too likely to send a fireball your way if you upset them.
The woman singing on the stage was much more to his taste. Her voice wasn’t up too much, but her passion for performing was obvious. And that passion surely had to spill over into the bedroom. He took another sip of the foul mushroom ale, just barely able to get it down without choking.
The singer’s set had ended. She took a second to acknowledge the half-hearted applause from the crowd and ducked into the back. Aldous looked after her and frowned slightly. He considered following her, and then turned towards his companions.
“Another round?” Aldous suggested. “The barkeep’s just about ready to throw us out if we don’t order something.”
“I think I’ll just head off to bed,” Cordelia said. She got to her feet. “It will be a long trudge back to Blackchasm Outpost to give them the bad news.”
Ssschah got his feet as well.
That left Mycroft. Cordelia said that the lad had a crush on him. She said that he shouldn’t be encouraging him. It was true that the healer admired him, but admiration was all that it was. The lad wasn’t twisted; it was Cordelia’s imagination that was twisted. Everyone knew that frustrated virgins had the dirtiest minds.
Mycroft said, “Minister Pilhofer promised to lend me a short treatise on the beliefs of the Anama. I should pop over and get it before it’s too late.”
“He’ll try to convert you,” Cordelia warned.
“No chance of that,” Mycroft smiled. “My heart belongs to the Empress.
I won’t be long. A few minutes only. I’ll come back here and then we’ll walk back together,” he added, speaking to Aldous.
“If I’m still here. I might make alternate arrangements. That singer was definitely giving me the eye...”
“But she is married to the bartender,” Ssschah said. “Wouldn’t spending the evening with her be a breach of hospitality?”
An expression of dismay passed over Aldous’s face, but he recovered quickly.
Mycroft’s “few minutes” turned out to be a half an hour, during which Aldous took the occasional sip of beer and stoically endured the bartender’s hostility. He was in a dark mood when the healer returned, clutching a rather battered scroll.
One of the many depressing things about Avernum was the lack of day or night. Always the same gloom whether it was noon or midnight.
“This place doesn’t suit me,” Aldous complained. “ I’m a man of simple pleasures: good food, fine wine, a sweet-natured woman....Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a woman? Almost a month. “
“A month doesn’t seem that long to me.”
“Well, you’re a monk, aren’t you? You’re not normal.”
“That’s a nasty thing to say!” Mycroft said. “You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I haven’t had enough,” Aldous retorted. “Not enough alcohol, not enough food and especially not enough sex. It’s all I can think about. I can’t concentrate on anything else.”
This embarrassing confession was enough to bring their conversation to a halt. They continued on in silence.
Mycroft stopped short in front of a garden shed. He stood still for a second and then cautiously tried the door. It wasn’t locked.
“Follow me,” Mycroft said.
Aldous assumed that the healer must have heard the sounds of movement behind the door. Aldous put his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready for a swarm of scutters, a giant spider or whatever other monstrosity Avernum had planned for him.
The shed was empty.
Mycroft shut the door behind them. He dropped to his knees on a sack of rotting grain. He applied his deft fingers to the buttons of Mycroft’s pants. Later, Aldous couldn’t explain why he didn’t stop him. He could have hit him in the face, or shoved him, or just said “no”. He didn’t.
The encounter took less than five minutes. When he was done, Mycroft spat into his handkerchief and then wiped Aldous clean with the same damp rag. Mycroft stood up, brushing the rotted grain from the knees of his pants.
“Feel better now?” Mycroft asked.
Aldous nodded. He did actually feel better, more relaxed. He could think again. He frowned. The soldier felt as if his body, which he had always trusted to do exactly what he wanted, had betrayed him.
“Next time,” Mycroft said, ”don’t let yourself get into a state. Just let me know, and I’ll take care of you.”
Aldous said nothing. He straightened his clothes and nervously ran his fingers though his hair.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” Mycroft asked. “Especially not Cordelia. It would just confirm all the terrible things she thinks about me.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone. This isn’t something that I’m proud of, and in any case, I don’t relish spending the next three years of my life in one of the Empress’s prisons.”
Aldous opened the shed door and walked away. Mycroft glumly followed him.

Aldous was the last one up in the morning. Ssschah had made a campfire and had scrounged a battered pot. He was boiling some dried lizard meat and mushrooms to make a kind of soup. Aldous took a look at it and decided to make do with a stale roll and a piece of Avernum’s strange fungal fruit.
Cordelia and Mycroft were arguing over the scroll that he had borrowed from the Anama minister.
“Why are you reading this trash? Why are you poisoning your mind?”
“It’s not trash. There’s nothing wrong with investigating new ideas.”
“This scroll says that magic is bad. It says that I’ve spent years of my life learning how to bring evil into the world. Do you really think that I’m evil?”
“Of course, I don’t.”
“When that enormous rat was about to bite you and I killed him with a fireball, that must have been an act of pure evil. If I were a good person, I would have let it eat you. Minister Pilhofer would have let you die. He’s so much more principled than I am.”
“You’re taking this so personally,” Mycroft said. “It’s just ideas. Someone’s thoughts.”
“Just ideas. Do you have any notion of the harm that ideas can do?”
“Please,” Aldous said wearily. “It’s too early in the day for an argument. Pour some of that vile lizard soup down your gullets and let’s get going.”
Mycroft looked up at Aldous hopefully, but Aldous avoided his gaze. He stared moodlily into the fire.
“I was thinking, “ Cordelia said tentatively, “that on our way back we could stop to investigate a cave someone told me about. One of the farmers told me that there’s a secret entrance there, quite easy to find if you know where to look.”
“This isn’t about your lost cousin Rayven, is it?” Aldous asked.
“He’s not my cousin, but yes, it’s about Rayven. He’s a citizen of the Empire, just like us, and it’s likely that he’s fallen into dangerous company. He may need our help. The farmer spotted someone matching his description near the cave.”
“Anyone have any objection to visiting this cave on the way?” Aldous asked.
There were no objections.
“Fine, the cave it is. I just hope there’ll be some high quality crystals to make it worth our while.”

 

Cordelia ran her fingers down a rock wall, which looked exactly the same as every other rock wall. She gave a cry of triumph. There was a grinding noise and a cloud of dust; and a narrow gap appeared. With a little difficulty, they managed to squeeze through the gap one after the other.
Mycroft took out a lantern from his pack. He lit it. They were in a narrow winding corridor carved from the rocks.
The soldiers travelled down a maze of hallways that seemed to have been purposely designed to confuse any visitors. At intervals, there were steps carved into the rock, taking them ever deeper. The ground shook underneath their feet. Was that vibration one of Avernum’s many cave quakes or something even worse? Under his breath, Mycroft chanted a protective blessing. Aldous walked in front, his sword at the ready.
“Stop,” Ssschah called out.
The party halted. Ssschah’s keen eyes had picked out what Aldous had missed. He knelt down, examining the device that Aldous had almost stepped on.
“A simple thing,” he said, “but it would have killed you, I think. Be more careful.”
“This shows that where going in the right direction,” Cordelia said optimistically. “Look, there’s writing on the walls. I don’t recognize the script. I wish I had studied ancient lore a bit more.”
Ssschah ran his finger over the letters. They were icy cold. Some kind of old, forgotten magic here.
Ssschah groaned softly. Swarms of scutters, enormous poisonous spiders, seas of flesh-eating rats, murderous golems – these he could handle. Perhaps even an under-sized demon. But the rapidly falling temperature and the creeping feeling on the back of his neck told him that they were dealing with ghosts. He was afraid of ghosts.
Mycroft seemed to sense his fear. He hastened to reassure the nervous Slith.
“Incantrix Insitar taught me a very good spell for repelling ghosts. It disrupts their energy. They just disappear like a bad dream. I’d love a chance to try it out,”
“I think a fireball would work just as well,” Cordelia said.
“A fireball is your answer to everything,” Mycroft teased.
This familiar bickering was somehow comforting. The party advanced. Ahead of them the corridor opened up into a dome. The light from Mycroft’s lantern was too weak to illuminate this vast space.
“How can this be here?” Ssschah asked of no one in particular. “It’s too big.”
“I think we must be under the sea floor” Aldous said. “We’ve been heading steadily downward.”
At the far end of the dome, there was a flickering light. They headed towards it.
There was a large gate guarded by a single man. He wore a shiny uniform and carried a fancy silver sword, which seemed more for decorative effect than for use. He was surrounded by a small army of ghosts. The ghosts were of all sorts: humans, Slitherakai, Nephilim, even a tall thin figure that Ssschah thought had to be one of the elusive and mysterious Vahnatai. They wore clothes in the style of bygone eras, and floated around in a vague, absent-minded way, as if they had no real idea why they were there. Ssschah groaned again, and this time Cordelia squeezed his arm.
“I don’t like uninvited guests,” the guard said. “If it were up to me, I’d have my army of spirits chase you out of here. But the Great Rayven has decided to see you.”
“Rayven seems to have done rather well for himself,” Aldous commented, as they followed the guard into what must be Rayven’s palace. Fine tapestries hung on the wall. Here and there there were glints of reflected light in the darkness. Maybe crystals, maybe emeralds or even rubies. Aldous would have loved to examine them, but he couldn’t in the presence of the guard.
“Rayven,” the guard called out. “Here are your visitors.”
“Thank you, Elmer. You may leave.”
Elmer turned around and left, though he didn’t go far. He lurked in the corridor, just out of sight of the Great Rayven.
Rayven was dressed for the role of Ruler of the Spirit Realm, in a sumptuous robe and crown, but he was totally wrong for the part. He had red hair and was trying to grow a beard without much success. His skin was almost as pale as a native Avernite’s. His freckles hadn’t quite faded away.
“Welcome to my kingdom. Feel free to look around but don’t take any of the precious stones and crystals out of this cave. The spirits are kind of possessive about those.”
“How about the tapestries and the works of art?”
“Well, they seem to be held together by some kind of magic. If you take them out the cave to try to sell them, they rot in your hands as soon as you step out of the door. It’s quite inconvenient really. Elmer and I could really use some money right now. Our food supplies are getting rather low.”
He looked hopefully at the Empire soldiers.
He’s crazy, thought Ssschah, but harmless. It comes from hanging around ghosts too much.
He dug into his pack and brought out a piece of salt fish, which the Great Rayven ate ravenously. Elmer was watching from the corridor, so he walked over to hand him some mushrooms, which the splendidly dressed guard seemed pathetically grateful to receive.
“Your Uncle Parsifal asked me to check up on you,” Cordelia said.
“I’m fine,” Rayven said. “Doing really well. “
“He told me that you were a teacher.”
“I used to be. I was a professor of ancient lore. Now, I’m the ruler of this spirit realm. Quite a step up.”
Rayven had finished the piece of salt fish. He snatched the piece of stale bread that Cordelia held out to him.
“Tell me what happened, and I’ll give you some more,” she promised.
The Ruler of the Spirit Realm agreed to this arrangement.
“I found out about this place while I was translating some ancient texts. I took a sabbatical to come down and investigate. Elmer came with me. He’s a pupil of mine and quite brilliant in his own right. Elmer’s a leading authority on pre-Avernite civilizations. A few of the ghosts are from the pre-Avernite era. Once we figure out how to get the ghosts to talk, I’m sure they’ll be an excellent source of historical data. First-hand accounts of historical events!”
Mycroft rewarded him with a piece of fungal fruit.
“Your sabbatical ended six months ago, and your family is very worried about you,” Cordelia said.
“Tell them they’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“But you’ve made this great discovery,” Cordelia said. “Don’t you want to share it with the world? Maybe it’s time to go back.”
“Actually,” Elmer said. “I think that I was supposed to get married a while ago. I really should see my fiancée and explain what held me up. She might be a bit upset with me.”
“Well if you’re going,” Rayven said petulantly, “then I’ll have to go too. I’m not staying here alone.”
Rayven took off the sumptuous robe and the glittering crown. The clothes he had on underneath were very dirty, and hung on him loosely. He must have lost a good deal of weight during his extended sabbatical.
Elmer had taken off his finery as well, though he seemed rather reluctant to part with the sword. It would be, he said, just the thing to hang over the fireplace.
Elmer led the way back up the corridor. At every turn, there seemed to be more ghosts. Although they didn’t attack, they pressed against the Empire soldiers. There was a low murmuring sound, something that was almost speech. The spirits were unhappy.
“Your subjects don’t seem to want to let us through,” Mycroft said.
“They love me,” Rayven said. “Until I came along, they had nothing to do and no one to haunt for a very long time. I expect they were bored out of their minds, poor dears.”
“Is there another way out?” Ssschah asked. He was starting to hyper-ventilate.
Elmer answered him. He seemed marginally more sensible than his former professor.
“Well there is, but we never use it. It’s full of giant spiders and scutters and poisonous rats.”
“We’ll take that route,” Aldous said.
Elmer forgot to mention the slimes.

 

Four long and brutal hours later, all six of them emerged alive. Mycroft had sprained his ankle and had to be supported by Cordelia and Aldous. He didn’t have enough energy to muster up a minor healing spell, and they had used up all their healing potions.
“All this work and no treasure,” Aldous muttered.
Cordelia and Aldous propped Mycroft against a rock and took a breather.
“How far is it to Blackchasm Outpost?” Rayven asked.
Away from the influence of the ghosts, Rayven and Elmer seemed almost normal.
“Normally about an hour,” Ssschah said, “ but since we will have to carry Mycroft, it will take longer.”
“I’ll stay here,” Mycroft offered. “You can come back for me later.”
“Don’t be silly,” Cordelia said briskly. “You’d be easy prey for any passing monster in your condition.”
“I’ll stay behind with him,” Ssschah offered.
“Fine,” Aldous said. He strode off towards Blackchasm Outpost without a backwards glance. Cordelia, Rayven and Elmer followed.
Ssschah gathered up a few sticks and made a fire. From somewhere on his person he produced a pot and a slice of dried of lizard. Mycroft pointed him towards a patch of mushrooms that looked edible. Lunch would be lizard soup again. Ssschah sat next to Mycroft.
Ssschah broke the silence. “I have difficulty reading human emotions, sometimes. I can’t always tell whether you are happy or sad. But I think that there is something wrong. You humans are all upset. Am I right?”
“You’re right.”
“Is it sex? With humans it is always sex.”
“Partly,” Mycroft conceded. “There are two separate problems. The first one is that I’m in love with someone who doesn’t love me back.”
“Bad,” Ssschah said sympathetically. “What is the second problem?”
“Someone doesn’t trust me because that person thinks I’m a liar. I’m not a liar! I just didn’t tell all the truth. I think she – this person – found out about the things I left out.”
“This person is Cordelia?”
Mycroft nodded.
“She says things. She drops hints to see how I’ll react.”
“Cordelia trusts you. She knew that you would come back for her when that poisonous spider bit her leg. Even though you were injured and exhausted, she told me that you would come back for her and cure her. And you did.”
“I really hate spiders,” Mycroft said.
“Not as much as I hate ghosts.”
In the distance, Mycroft spotted Cordelia and Aldous heading back from the Outpost. They were waving.