{\rtf1{\info{\title Gregor And The Code Of Claw}{\author Suzanne Collins}}\ansi\ ansicpg1252\deff0\deflang1033{

\par \pard \hyphpar {\line } {\par \pard \hyphpar {\b Gregor and the Code of Claw}}{\par \pard \hyphpar SUZANNE COLLINS}{\par \pard \hyphpar SCHOLASTIC INC.}{\par \pard \hyphpar New York Toronto London Auckland Sydney}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mexico City New Delhi Hong Kong Buenos Aires}{\par \pard \hyphpar For Kathy, Drew, and Joanie}{\par \pard \hyphpar If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that}{\par \pard \hyphpar this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the p ublisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received}{\par \pard \hyp hpar any payment for this "stripped book."}{\par \pard \hyphpar No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, r ecording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For informa tion regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., Attention: Permissions Depa rtment,}{\par \pard \hyphpar 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.}{\par \pard \hyphpar This book was originally published in hardcover -by Scholastic Press in 2007.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar ISBN-13: 978-0-439-79144-1 ISBN-10: 0-439-79144-8}{\par \pard \hyphpar Copyright \uc3\u169(c) 2007 by Suzanne Collins. All rights reserved.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Published by Scholastic Inc. SCHOLASTIC, APPLE PAPERBACKS, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered}{\par \pard \hyphpar trademarks of Scholastic Inc.}{\par \pard \hyphpar 12 1110 987654321 8 9 10 1112 13/0}{\par \pard \hyphpar Printed in the U.S.A. 40}{\par \pard \hyphpar First Scholastic paperback printing, May 2008}{\par \pard \hyphpar The text type was set in 12-pt. Sabon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b PART 1: The Code}}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 1}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's back pressed into the cold stone floor as he stared up at the words on the ceiling. His eyes and skin were still stinging from the volcanic ash that ha d engulfed him hours ago. Between the burning in his lungs and the rapid beating of his heart, it was hard to get a full breath. To steady himself, he tightened his grip on the hilt of his newly claimed sword.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As soon as he had retrieved the sword from the museum, he had run to this room. Every inch of it \uc2\u8212-- walls, floor, and ceiling \uc2\u8212-- was covered in prophecies about the Underland, this gloomy warring world far beneath New Yo rk City, which had consumed Gregor's life for the past year. Bartholomew of Sand wich, the man who had founded the human city of Regalia, had carved the propheci es some four centuries ago. While most of his words were for the benefit of the Regalians, they also made reference to many of the giant creatures who lived in the neighboring lands down here \uc2\u8212-- the bats, the cockroaches, the spid ers, the mice, and, most often, the rats. Oh, and Gregor. Several were about Gre gor. But they didn't call him by his name. In the prophecies, he was known as "t

he warrior."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor hadn't allowed anyone to enter the room with him. He'd wanted to be compl etely alone when he first read this prophecy. Everyone had taken such pains to k eep its contents from him in the last few months that he had known it must say s omething awful. And he had wanted to be able to react to the awfulness without a nyone watching him. Cry, if he needed to cry. Scream, if he needed to scream. Bu t it turned out it didn't really matter, because he'd barely reacted at all.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "You've got to face this thing. You've got to understand it," he told himself. S o he forced himself to focus on the precisely chiseled letters again.}{\par \par d \hyphpar As he reread the words, it was as if he could actually hear a clock ticking alon g with the lines. It was, after all, "The Prophecy of Time."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r {\i Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, ti ck, tick} ...}{\par \pard \hyphpar The war has been declared,}{\par \pard \hyphpar Your ally been ensnared.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It is now or it is never.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Break the code or die forever.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Time is running out Running out}{\par \pard \hyphpar Running out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar To the warrior give my blade. by his hand your fate is made.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r But do not forget the ticking}{\par \pard \hyphpar Or the clicking, clicking, clicking.}{\par \pard \hyphpar While a rat's tongue may be flicking,}{\par \pard \hyphpar With its feet it does the tricking.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For the raw and not the jaw}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Makes the Code of Claw.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Time is standing still Standing still Standing still.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Since the princess is the key to unlock the treachery,}{\par \pard \hyphpar She cannot avoid the matching}{\par \pard \hyphpar Or the scratching, scratching, scratching.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When a secret plot is hatching,}{\par \pard \hyphpar In the naming is the catching.}{\par \pard \hyphpar WHAT SHE SAW, it is the flaw}{\par \pard \hyphpar Of the Code of Claw.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Time is turning back}{\par \pard \hyphpar Turning back}{\par \pard \hyphpar Turning back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When the monster's blood is spilled,}{\par \pard \hyphpar When the warrior has been killed, {\i you} must not ignore the rapping, or the tapping, tapping, tapping.}{\par \pard \hyphpar if the gnawers find you napping, you will rot while they are mapping}{\par \pard \hyphpar out the law of those who gnaw}{\par \pard \hyphpar In the Code of Claw.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The ticking stopped with the words. Gregor closed his eyes as that one phrase ha mmered in his brain:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar That was it, obviously. The part that nobody had wanted to tell him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When {\i the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Not even Ripred \uc2\u8212-- and you had to figure that rat was used to breaking

bad news to people after all those years of fighting in wars.}{\par \pard \hyph par When {\i the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Not even Luxa \uc2\u8212-- who was only twelve, yet seemed much older because sh e was a queen and had lost her parents and all. What was it that she had said to him on the edge of the cliff a few hours ago? "If you were to return home after you read the prophecy, I would not hold it against you."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Really, Luxa?" thought Gregor. "You wouldn't hold it against me? Because if the tables were turned ... I'd never forgive you in a million years."}{\par \pard \ hyphpar {\i When the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar In theory, sure, Gregor could still go home. Pack up his three-year-old sister, Boots, get his mom out of the hospital, where she was recovering from the plague , and have his bat, Ares, fly them back up to the laundry room of their apartmen t building in New York City. Ares, his bond, who had saved his life numerous tim es and who had had nothing but suffering since he had met Gregor. He tried to im agine the parting. "Well, Ares, it's been great. I'm heading home now. I know by leaving I'm completely dooming to annihilation everyone who's helped me down he re, but I'm really not up for this whole war thing anymore. So, fly you high, yo u know?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Like that would ever happen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When {\i the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar It simply didn't feel real. Any of it. Maybe it was because he was so tired. Gre gor hadn't slept in days. Not since before he'd watched the rats murder hundreds of mice in a pit at the base of a volcano in the Firelands. He'd fallen unconsc ious for a while from the poisonous fumes the volcano had emitted when it erupte d. Did that count as sleep? Maybe. But it had been only a short time before he'd come to and waded through deep ash in search of his friends. Before he could ev en experience the joy of finding them, he'd learned that Thalia, the sweet littl e bat who had mistakenly been caught up in the ill-fated trip, had suffocated as she tried to escape the volcano. Hazard, Luxa's seven-year-old cousin who had p lanned on bonding with Thalia, had been so distraught they'd had to sedate him. Later, when they had finally found some clean air on a cliff overlooking the jun gle, Gregor had volunteered to keep watch while the others rested. On the flight home, packed onto Ares's back with Boots, Hazard, their cockroach friend, Temp, and a heavily drugged mouse, Cartesian, he had been unable to sleep. Now he was numb....}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar And unable to muster any real emotional response to the prophecy. "What's wrong with me?" Gregor thought. "Shouldn't I be freaking out?" He should, of course, h e should. Only after all that had happened, he just didn't have it in him. "It'l l hit me later, I guess. Maybe in a couple days. If I last that long ..."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Rotten as the prophecy was, Gregor supposed it could have been even worse. On th e good side, Boots and his mom might make it out of the Underland alive. It look ed like Boots, who was known to the giant cockroaches as "the princess," had som e important role to play in breaking this Code of Claw thing. But the prophecy d idn't call for anyone else's death.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Wait, yes it did.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the monster's blood is spilled}}{\par \pard \hyphpar After what Gregor had witnessed in the last few days, he couldn't imagine anyone being the monster but the Bane. The enormous white rat, whose life Gregor had s pared as a baby, had grown up to be a vicious leader consumed with hatred and wa s at least somewhat insane. Life had twisted and tormented that fragile rat pup into a monster, but there was no helping the Bane now. He had given the order to

He re membered something he'd seen on a field trip he'd made to the Cloisters in New Y ork City..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor? How fare you?" said Vikus. was in terrible dange r in the Firelands. how wou ld Gregor's family react? He didn't ever want to find out. either." said Vikus. Gregor pulled his sword from his belt and tapped the line about his death with the point of the blade. painfully got to his feet. he would have to be killed." said Gregor evenly. Gregor instinct ively covered the handle. "Never better.had it been a knight? \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Believe me." How perfect for Sandwich to have pu t "The Prophecy of Time" smack in the middle of the ceiling so that Gregor would have to be lying just like this to read it. How perfect and horrible the whole thing was. Eat something at least. It was an old museum filled with medieval stuff. I would do it in a moment.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This? You think it's easy to misinterpret this?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus hesitated. But that wouldn't be an option in the Underland. his granddaughter. Ares had flown over them on their way back to Regalia..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I came in to remind you how easy it is to misinterpret Sandwich's prophecies.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Gregor slid the sword back in his belt. "Possibly." said Gregor. he'd been lying in almost t he exact position Gregor was in now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But he seemed frozen in place. "At this angle." said Gregor. Gregor had to feel sorry for him." said Vikus." Vikus's eyes filled with tear s."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. Down here. In fact." Although he had washed as best he could at a spring on the cliff. How quickly he'd become protective." thought Gregor. Solovet. Vikus was overworked. Vikus reached for it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's catchy. Gregor. fulfill this prophecy myself . It's a miracle I've lasted this long. and Luxa. Life had not been p articularly kind to Vikus. He had to be stopped. "That's me. I'd better go get this stuff off of me . Vikus couldn't be getting much rest. One room held tombs..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Go to the hospital."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What think you of 'The Prophecy of Time'?" asked Vikus.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Vikus's face registered surprise. On top of each tomb was a life-size image of the dead person carved in stone. it seems pretty clear to me.wipe out the mice and there was no telling what he would do next. Th ere was this one guy \uc2\u8212-. "Look.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar . The old man's voice sounded as exhausted as Gregor felt. Or my dad. who'd been in charge o f the Regalian army until recently.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The door swung open softly and footsteps crossed to him." he thought. I could've died fifty times down here already. He knew he had to fight." He placed his hand on top of Gregor's and gave the handle a twist. either. "It's mine.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Me? I'm good."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Thanks for the tip.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "I guess I should get started.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Despite his own situation. "Just don't tell my m om about it. He'd messed u p his knee on this last trip. "Well. As head of the Regalian council. Gregor... then concern. as if he had become part of the stone. "I had no thought of taking it. you will avoid cutting your leg. He probably hadn't had much sleep. No one in my family can know. too. Okay?"}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Vikus nodded in agreement. You gave it to me. G regor should be getting ready. No. if there was any way I could take your place. I' ve turned to stone and I'm as good as dead. he might be imprisoned for life or something. anyway. much of the volcanic ash was still eating away at his skin. They have a salve for that." he said brusquely. Only you must wear the sword so." If Vikus was this upset. and slowly. even jealous of the weapon." said Gregor. "That's me. How perfect that the sword under Gr egor's hands had once belonged to Sandwich and would now carry out his visions. was about to go on trial for ordering resear ch that had created a plague. His wife. In the Overland.who'd had h is hands folded over the hilt of his sword. An army of r ats would be here soon.

But somewhere inside himself. It took not one bath but three until the doct ors were satisfied that he was free of the ash. He hadn't been injured badly on this trip. he slid the tray onto the sheets . "I don't k now what I'll do. Then they c overed his skin in a pleasant-smelling lotion. you mean . Mareth. That would have been dangerous. Of course they ha d not put him to bed with it. his right hand clutching the empty space on his le ft hip. Gregor grabbed the nearest doctor's sleeve. giving him a significant look." said Vikus. so he added. he usually lost control of himself. His skin had absorbed the lotion and felt soothed and cool . too." Gregor left the room quickly to avoid any further discussion of what he might and might not do. Now he could eat. He did not like it to be out of his reach."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar Mareth gave his shoulder a squeeze but didn't pursue it. trying to get out the last bit. There will be much fighting left when you awaken.. How do you feel ?" he asked Gregor. "Do not worry. Then Gregor realized he was referring to the prophecy c alling for the warrior's death. A time to hold back your sword. He was too tired to make any noble promises. But after she left. He thought he swallowed some medicine. "Gregor.tasted wonderful and he ate every bite.. "Oh. He pushed it away. and propped it right against the side of his bed. He drowsily to ok stock of his body. Then he limped to a chair by the b ed. But a year ago. Someone had trimmed his ragged nails. Some fish. He was wiping his finger around the pudding bowl. The sleeve slipped from his hand and he gave in to sleep. Gregor began to cough up a lot of junk he h ad inhaled over the last few days. Vikus." said the soldier with a smile. I. but he sti ll needed the help of a cane to walk. He called down the hall for them to bring Gregor more food. The bland meal \uc2\u8212-. "How's Boots and Hazard and everybody? ." He sensed the answer was insufficient. you refused t o even touch that weapon." said the doctor. stuffing it into his mouth. His knee. He was so hungry he ignored the utensils and scooped up the food with his han ds. when his old friend Mareth came into the room.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar When Gregor opened his eyes it took him a minute to realize where he was.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Food had been scant over the last days of the journey. By the time the process was over. His ho spital room was so clean and well lit after his days on the road.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Down in the hospital he was immediately sent to soak in a tub bubbling with some kind of herbal mixture designed to remove the ash from his skin. His sword! Where was his sword? He saw it almost at once. "I have to go fight!"} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Not like this." Dread began to seep into his brain. still unable to deal with it. He was dressed in fresh cloth es. As the steam f rom the concoction filled his lungs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Fine. He drank the broth in a bowl held again st his lips. Gregor noticed he was doing a lot better with his prosthetic leg. Gregor could barely keep his eyes open. "I'm okay. "I can try.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You are allowed to have seconds. Especi ally when once he began to fight. so he obeyed. you h ave demonstrated an extraordinary ability to kill. And no one had sto len it.Gregor started for the door but Vikus stopped him with his voice. a few mushroom s. Still." said Gregor. He didn't want to ar gue with her. Wars are not fleet. he knew the doctor was rig ht. propped in the corner of the hospital room.. "You slept for a full day. fish chowder."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. both inside and out. Gregor was glad they di dn't have to have some big talk about it. had been wrapped and was l ess painful. the sword belt dangling from it. Mareth didn't ne ed to look so concerned. "Will you do that?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't know." said Gregor. Remember that even in war there is a time for restrain t. and pudding \uc2\u8212-. which he had injured falling from a rock. got the sword." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Suddenly he sat bolt upright.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was swinging his stiff legs to the floor to retrieve the sword when a nur se came in with a tray of food and ordered him back in bed.. even the twelve feet that separated him from the weapon caused hi m unease. And then fatigue began to take over.bread.

If he had to die. A bat was sent to the Overland w ith the news as soon as you arrived... But Howard's medical training has paid off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The nurse brought another serving of pudding and left. but an infection of her lungs." said Mareth. But there was no attack on Reg alia. Gregor needed to get her home.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "You mean. Just a few weeks ago at Hazard's birthday party. Luxa and her bat. They have all been purged of ash. he had tak en possession of Sandwich's sword.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am sure they mean to bolster the Bane's defenses.. while his friends were caught in a battle in the Firelands?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor shoved his tray off of his legs so quickly that the bowls clattered to th e floor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Your father has been told of your safe return. but it was empty.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm going back. Nike. Dancing."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa. His old clothes had probably been destroyed.. Then he paused. "This? "}{\par \pard \hyphpar There they were. He jumped out of bed and grabbed the sword belt. "Have they attacked the city yet?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. He h ad completed this phase of his mission. would have been to help defend Regalia from a massive rat attack.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What are you doing?" said Mareth. They were not safe and clean in the hospital but fighting to free the mice who were still alive in the Fir el ands. Hazard is confined to be d until his head wound has healed fully. His next step. but a rat army descending out in the open was much worse. "Two divisions of soldiers have been sent after them." said Mareth. He had brought back the kids and the wou nded to Regalia.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "None. Luxa and Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor felt the back pocket of his pants. But our normal channels of communication are somewhat disrupted now that Luxa has declared war." said Gregor. He said to tell you that your grandmother a nd sister Lizzie are well. Laughing. His friend Howard an d his bat.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. "I had a picture.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She has had a relapse. His parents and grandma and sisters had to have one another. "This is bad." he mumbled."}{\par \pard \hyphpar This was not good.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My parents?" Gregor asked." said Mareth. lying in bed stuffing his face with pudding. he'd assumed. He felt slightly panicked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What?" said Gregor in surprise. he had to die. They are well." said Mareth." said Mareth. "She will mend but it has weakened her greatly. He had read "The Prophecy of Time. The rats turned back to the Firelands when they saw our troops fly over. He poked at the pudding with his spoon."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . In my pock et \uc2\u8212--"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth lifted a photograph off of the bedside table and handed it to him." said Mareth. Aurora. Captured in one of the few really happy moments they had shared. Whatever else happened. there's no one here to fight?" Gregor's mind suddenly cleared. no. either.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And my mom?" Gregor prompted him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You mean the plague came back?" said Gregor anxiously. Gregor no longer felt so hungry. A rat army waiting at the walls of a well-forti fied city was scary. "Thanks. S o what was he doing here." And most of all. "I'm going back to fight those rats." s aid Mareth. Which was good because Gregor was not sure how to put into words what had begun to happen between himself and Luxa ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "Any word from them?" asked Gregor. He did an excellent job of stitching it."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth did not make him explain that. Gregor slid the photo into the pocket of his shirt. But that made it a hundred times more crucial for his mom and Boots to get back to New York City safely. Ripred. We ho pe to hear soon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Where are the rats now? The ones Ares and I saw headed for Regalia on our way b ack?" asked Gregor. How their rocky friendship was transforming into an entirely different relatio nship.

why? That doesn't change what Solovet did. Mareth might hav e lost his leg. We are at war.that trial will never happen now!" said Gregor bitterly. that's what I'm talking about. He wiped up the pudding he'd kn ocked to the floor and neatly reset the tray. Gregor took a few deep breaths to get a handle on himself. the soldier limped out of the room."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Whose orders?" asked Gregor. Then he lay back down in bed to lo ok like a model patient while he worked things out in his head."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "The head of \uc2\u8212-. a person who thinks of little but killing rats is of great value. It wo uldn't. He released Gregor and took an awkward step back. "During wartime. His fingers fumbled in their eagerness to buckle on the belt.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Solovet's?" said Gregor. it is of no matter. Gregor thought of his mom struggling to breathe somewhere in the hospital.***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 2}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth rose to block his way. "Whatever my private opinion of the situation is. "That's not right. So t he council has reinstated her as head of the Regalian army. She still killed all those peo ple and bats." said Gregor. He'd thought that maybe the y'd made her the leader of his squadron or something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Solovet's. "I thought she was locked up in her room a nd had to go on trial for causing the plague. "She still orde red the doctors to make the plague into a weapon."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. not criminal. Of one thing he was certain. save yourself.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Great. All of the people and bats and rats who had died. Gregor." }{\par \pard \hyphpar "But \uc2\u8212-." said Gregor." said Gregor.no way!" exclaimed Gregor. It is not so simple now.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "Be careful to whom you say that."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "By accident. As far as he knew. Mareth. then unbuckled his sword belt and placed the blade back in the corner of the room.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. "Is Ares still in the hospital?" He knew his b ond would be as anxious as he was to rejoin their friends. You will be expected to follow orders.. Perhaps the most valu able one we have. "Wait. The purple scars that Ares 's fur still could not quite cover. But now she was back in ch arge of everything? "Couldn't they get someone else?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There is no human. He moved for the door only to find he was being lifted in the air and thrust back against the bed. "Now that we are at war w ith them. As the hatred against the rats built. Solo vet is now in command." said Mareth. Her plan was to kill rats. she would be seen as heroic." said Gregor. the humans would think that Solovet had had a good idea in turn ing the plague germs into a weapon."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not of me. "Sol ovet is both cunning and ruthless in war. The war would erupt and blank everything else out. genuinely thrown.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But." said Mareth. Despite all of the deaths she had caused to her own people.}{\par \pard \hyp . down the hall."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The trial was put on hold once it was known that Luxa had declared war. You cannot go running off when the mood strikes you." said Mareth quietly. you are a soldier. he was going to go on his own.. no problem. "Do you think it's right?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth sighed and averted his eyes. She almost killed my mom. she was no longer in a position to give anyone orders. but he could still toss Gregor around." said Marefh. He was not going to go to his death on Solovet's terms." said M areth. then we can get going. who the rats fear as much. It was felt we needed her to survive. Gregor.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "Listen!" said Mareth." With that." said Gregor. "Not everyone he re is your friend. But listen a moment \uc2\u8212--" Mareth began.

And it is true. but it was unlikely it involved him hopping on Ares and f lying straight back to the Firelands. "It is fine to use your knee. or lie to her. the skin was hot and dry from fever.}{ . All of her effort went into breathing. at least. But he couldn't count on o ther people's loyalty. if he were planning to stay in Regalia like a good little soldier. if she was well enough to see him. but then he realized the doctor was af raid of anyone hearing his words." said the doctor. All three options were lousy. I can't let anyone else guess that I want to go back. maybe. Gregor felt torn as the desire to get to the Firelands fought with the need to get his mother to safety. not for his own protection but for hers. She may even have to be moved to the Fount." said the doctor. helping him into a pair of sandals." He couldn't tell if she understood him or not. but that would be odd. the doctor took Gregor aside and spoke in a whisper. he would have to do it in secret.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stroked his mother's cheek.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What's your plan?" he heard Ripred's voice in his head.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But she could go home.hpar Mareth was right. she was going to be both furious about his trip to the Firelands and a damant that he return immediately to New York City.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Got it. For a time of peace. But take it slowly for the first few days. Which he wasn't going to do. If he was going to get back to the Fireland s. Your hospitals could t reat her as well as ours now. though. Only the truth was.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "If she was well enough to travel. Gregor's initial impulse had been to run straight to Ares . she'd had the energy to order him home." Gregor tho ught." He looked nervously around.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This isn't the plague. He was pretty sure Mareth wouldn't tell anyone. but she is not.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For a moment. he was still aching to see her. His mother won. I would use w hatever influence I have to get her back to the Overland. wouldn't he ask to see his mom first? He felt a flush of shame. Probably he would be part of some master p lan. So he would either have to fight with her. Shouldn't he have asked to see his mom first either way? Yes." said the doctor. Not everybody in Regalia was Gregor's friend. "Don't worry. And with the war commencing. the palace may come u nder attack.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Outside the room. His mother had no one but himself. Gregor didn't know what she had in store for him. Briefly. His mother was as sick as she 'd been when he'd first seen her with the plague.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor had underestimated what a relapse could be.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. I believe you call it 'pneumonia' in the Overland . It' s going to be all right. Gregor asked if he could visit her an d was given permission to do so. Underneath it all. this is a lung infection. If he were not obsessed with returning to the Firelands ." said Gregor." said the doctor. Sicker. openly defy her. if she was well enough to travel?" said Gregor. And he would have to do it carefully. keep my counsel to yourself. "Please. Plenty of people would be more than happy to spy on him for Solovet." Then he walke d swiftly away. right?" Gregor asked the doctor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But you said she was too sick to travel. it's going to be all right." said Gregor. Then. Whatever Gregor wanted would be of no consequence. His friends in the Firela nds had one another and an army to lean on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That is what I must say. He had to wear a mask. Her eyes had a distant look. "Warrior. The rat was trying to b reak him of the habit of flying off the handle and taking action without thinkin g of its consequences. good eve n. if she were my mother. She would view him as a weapon to be used at her discretion. Now she was too weak to even speak. "But now you must weigh the dangers of her staying here during a time of war. At first Gregor assumed it was for his mom's sake. "What's your plan?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "First of all.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When a doctor came by a few minutes later. When he held her hand. and made a big show of walking carefully down to his mom' s room.

because of Solovet.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "I was about to do so now." said Gregor. He ate it to keep up appearances. Since he'd seen his mom. was hoarse from the volcanic ash.\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor left the hospital without permission and found Vikus in the room off of t he High Hall. this would not raise any red flags." said the bat." Hamne t. before the ants had killed him. Three times already. they we re digging into Gregor now. "I have tried. it did not take long for my mother to get her claws into you." Gregor knew Vikus couldn't officially move his mom without the council members' authority. a famous warrior himself. anyway. It's a bout me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He returned to his hospital room to find that another meal had showed up. Thank s. but I am well. Who would know be tter than Hamnet what it felt like to have Solovet's claws in him? Well.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A bit stiff.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Think you'd be up for a game of chess later?" asked Gregor. She would never let his mom go until she was through using Gregor. "When are you sending the next message to my father?" he asked. "I myself f ind it wiser to keep certain thoughts to myself until they can be to my advantag e. Gregor. she was way too sick.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares was just finishing up his meal when Gregor came in."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus was right. At least Vikus was still looking out for him. When she got home she'd have to go straight to the hospital and then the questi ons would begin. That's what Hamnet had said on their first meeting in the jungle. but he couldn't help being frust rated by the way the old man constantly deferred to them. you just lost a warrior!" said Gregor. "But she can't stay he re during the war. Is there something you wish me to include?" a sked Vikus. "I see what you mean. A voice came out of the past: "I was jus t thinking. Th ey refuse to let her go. before he h ad been Gregor's guide. But it only increased Gregor's r esolve to defy her. His voice. though. gripped by fear for his mother." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah." Gregor thought he could say that much without getting t he doctor in trouble. in a whole new way. Hamnet. It's about keeping me here. Threatening the council members would only increase their suspicion of Greg or at a time when he was trying to appear tractable.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was all a moot point. "But the council does not accept if."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Suddenly Gregor understood what was going on. Could he move he r on his own? No. Solovet was holding his mother ho stage down here. She knew Gregor would never leave without his mom." he said. T he council has denied the requests. Gregor would rather gamble on his dad and Mrs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How you feeling.}{\par \pard \hyph par He headed back to the hospital. would try to force him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You tell the council they'd better keep her alive. If she dies. which was usually a low p urr.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus rubbed a hand over his eyes. man?" asked Gregor. "It's not about her health. That would take a whole team of doctors. My wife has convinced them that your mother's health wi ll not bear the move. What if the rats attacked the palace? You'd have to move her somewhere else. Probably needed it. He might be back on a di et of fish and mushrooms pretty soon. The doctors in the hospital would do their best to heal his mot her. my mom." said Vikus. Even so. Solovet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It gains you nothing and it reveals much of your hand.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Are you sure you wish me to say this?" asked Vikus. Cormaci coming up with some crazy story to explain his mom's condition than to risk hav ing her down here during the war. This was entirely f .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why wouldn't I?" said Gregor. anyway." said Vikus. A nurse was gathering u p the platters that had held the bat's food.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus's silence confirmed his words. and he knew his mother.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I have made this argument. had fled Regalia because his conscience would no longer allow him to f ight. Then he went to find Ares. Gregor.

too. Gregor and Ares had never played chess before. He took a less-traveled route to the museum as well. Never eve n spoken about it." said Gregor. "I have a board but no pieces at the mom ent. I'll get it.}{\par \pard \hyph par When he got to the museum. I know most of what happens to you down ther e is out of your control. and manage d to avoid running into anyone but a group of school-children.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar The nurse came in holding a chessboard. the first thing that caught his eye was a brown cardb oard box that was sealed with masking tape."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You know. "I will see if we have a board available. don't let yourself get killed. or you'll have an awful lot of explaining to do. but I feel certain you've got yourself mixed up in some kin d of funny business down there. Cor maci's. "I'm supposed to e xercise this knee some." said Ares. I know it's strange.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar {\i Dear Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'll find a way.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stopped by his hospital room and buckled on his sword belt.or the nurse's benefit. too... then spoke in urgent whispers. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "In one hour. well. but he knew Are s would understand he was referring to the spring-fed lake known as the Spout. Everyone's in a state because you've disappe ared on some picnic. he realized! Of course he knew! Hadn't he been the one waiting for his dad for two and a half years? D idn't his family's situation gnaw away at him every time he was on some mission? }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Now you're in Regalia because you're reading this. N ot about you or Boots." said Gregor. He recognized the handwriting as Mrs. he could hear Mrs. to look the other way while he flipped open that big stone turtle shell and climbed through it was going to be some trick. anyway. But your family is hurting right now.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Well." said Gregor with a grin." There actually was one of those li ttle magnetic travel chessboards complete with pieces in the museum." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The question is. But Gregor had seen a lot of people and bats playing in the h ospital while they were recovering. Do you realize. but I'm not even worried. But he still waited until the hall was free of doctors and nurses to slip out of the hospital.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. T here was a secret passage that led to it from a stone turtle in the old nursery.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We must get back to the Firelands. that's another story. Cormaci's voice in his head. When had this box come? Today? Yesterday? Or during his week or so of ab sence in the Firelands? Gregor ripped open the box and found a note right on top . I wonder. The words for gregor had been printe d neatly across the top in red marker. Some will be available soon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That sounds like a challenge.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar . Although persuading Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor and Ares waited a few moments. All I'm saying is. "Can y ou meet me at the place?" "The place" was a pretty general term. she will likely be there. a litter of mouse bab ies. If your si ster is not with Hazard. what it does to your family when you go off?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor felt like someone had hit him in the stomach." said Ares. As he read the words. It seemed like something the nurse would be in favor of.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The nurse seemed to approve. So it's a good time to step b ack and take a hard look at things. "The nibbler pups are still in the nursery. this is a fine how-do-you-do. Although your parents} . But Mareth says we're under Solovet's command now. are you up for it?" asked Ares. I think there's a set in the museum." She coll ected the dishes and left the room. he could always say he was just trying to get used to the feel of wearing it . It was the perfect excuse. and probably their nanny. Yes. I know you're only doing what you feel you have to do. If anyone ask ed.

Or any of them back home. Of no use at all. And a brand-new pair of sneakers. to give everything he had for the Underlanders. the knight had fought . So then \uc2\u821 2--}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sank to the floor. It was too much to ask of him. Somehow the thought of this other soldier from another time co mforted Gregor in a way that nothing living could. He had gone through something awful. and was unable to draw a breath. Ok ay. Okay. Images flew through his head. The shaking began to subside. that didn't even make sense. unyielding. People to help. Going to get Boots and my mom and get home and \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i P. And time was short.. her brow furro wed the way no eight-year-old kid's should ever be. He could see her face now. I've got to get home. it being Mrs. she would also know that his death was one of th ose things out of his control.. Mrs. Cormaci..' He struggled to get ahold of himself. and in the end nothing can touch me.} So Li zzie was home from sleepaway camp. he remembered that Ares was waiting for him. She says to share them with the rat. way -too-smart-for-her-age Lizzie. But the box was too deep to hold only cookie s. He knew she'd be a wreck. Worrying about him and Boots.. A big stack of batteries.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor watched as the note floated from his hand and came to rest gently on the floor. This had to stop! He couldn't flip out every time he thought about what lay before him. Cormaci. his future.S. of places and things he loved. He was going to die down here. He felt an im mense pressure in his chest. "I can't do this. Two flashlights. Wait . "That's me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then he remembered the stone knight in the Cloisters. little. He would be worthless.."}{\par \pard \hyphpar As he calmed down.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Next time I see Lizzie \uc2\u8212--" Gregor thought. as the waves of tremors ran through him. Of all the people he would never see.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar The room spun around and he clutched a shelf to keep from falling. And then he realized he wo uld never see her again. "I'm getting out of here .. As for explaining things once he was gone. and he was now in a place where no one could ever harm him again. well . lo ng since removed from anything in life that could hurt him. Why was she even saying this stuff to him? Maybe she meant it as a joke. That's how it is.. To give his life.back!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar For an instant. His entire body began shaking as he tried to push the threat from his mind. And that's when Sandwich's words finally hit him.never \uc2\u8212-look \uc2\u8212-. Something that gave him stren gth... Gregor inhaled and the pain in his ches t lost its grip. He lifted out the foil package and his heart skipped a beat.{\i Love. panting. everybody had to die eventually . How did she know? How did she always seem to know what he needed? The . his sister was anxious. Peaceful even. Even worrying about cranky old Ripred. of his friends. but now he was invulnerable. of his family. as if he were in danger of breaking into a thousand pieces. maybe died in a horrible battle. Of course. I'm made of stone.. He had things to do. The good kind. Cold. I can't.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor retrieved the note and pulled himself to his feet." Luxa was right. Because he was never leaving the Underland. But then what? What? What happ ened to everyone he loved down here? They would all die as the prophecy foretold . He could never let that happen. "No! I don't want this! I don't want t o die!" he thought.. Cormaci}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Why had she written that about him being killed? It was almost as if she had rea d the prophecy. I have to remember that's me from now on. or all the things he would never do. but it was too powerful. Saf e. Would never let that happen. "I'm that knight." he thoug ht. maybe she didn't. nervous. Skinny. Even when things we re going fine. but it was over.. But if she had. Mrs. H e had to have something in his mind to hold on to.. too . Lizzie helped make the cookies. Worrying about his mom and dad. Sleeping on his marble bed. hard. None of them were of any help. A long time ago. then. there was something at the bottom. He saw a foil-wrapped package that had to be the cookies. he thought he really might do it..

Remembering his story to the nurse. They were empty. Where he didn't have to deal with what she'd done to his mom and Ares and Howard and countless others. a makeup case. And yourself?" she asked."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . They each wore protective gear made of leather and meta l on their chests." Her real meaning was beginning to dawn on him. He probably wouldn't see her again. He smiled back. "We are very concerne d with your safety. "You can do this. The woman who wouldn't think twice abou t letting his mom die if it meant holding on to Gregor. "Excellent. when he had arrived back f rom the jungle.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Mrs. How've you been?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Very well. "See what you want me to do. but all he could find was a small pink one with thin cords for straps. Solovet. but he just laughed. but he wanted to cover all of his bases."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So. Doesn't seem like I' d need them in here. She was now in comma nd of him. Cou ld she see the dangers he would encounter in those tarot cards of hers." said Solovet." Gregor gave them a wave and they nodded back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Doing all right. he placed the magnetic chessboard on top of the cookies.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "Why not?" Solovet accepted a cookie and took a bite."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Then he turned the corner and pulled up short." he thought. he realiz ed both how much he hated her and how careful he had to be. By the time Gregor had been treated for his injuries and come out of th e anesthesia. generals or something?"} {\par \pard \hyphpar "No. Helmets covered their heads." he said."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My personal guards? Great.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What have you there?" she asked. and arms. Know you Horatio and Mar cus?" Solovet casually gestured to the men behind her. Then he placed the cookies back on top of the whole thing. I need to talk to you pretty soon. Looking natural. right?" asked Gregor as he shifted the b ox to his hip. But here she was. even tho ugh Gregor would never let her do a reading on him? Or was she just a good guess er?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor added a new roll of duct tape and two water bottles to the box. He wouldn't get ready to travel until he was in the secret passageway that led to the Spout. and a hai rbrush. "Hey. The wo rk boots that had saved his toes from being destroyed by acid in the jungle. He em ptied out a lady's wallet. like. nodding at the box. G regor had been glad she'd been taken away to a place where he couldn't see her. He looked for a new backpa ck.waterproof flashlight she had given him before he'd crossed the Waterway. but he could fil l them up at a stream along the way to the Firelands. They are your personal guards. She had been in the council meeting where they had arrested Dr. No w he had to get to the old nursery and into that passageway." said Gregor. "Taking your time. Behind her were two men. Neveeve had been executed and Solovet confined to her rooms. "Want one?" He peeled back the foil on the cookies and the delicious smell of oatmeal raisin filled the hallway. but it would hold his supplies and that was all that really mattered.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hi. In one second.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Gregor picked up the box. Cormaci sent me some cookies. legs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor. Aren't even any rats around." she said with a warm smile. The bottl es were the kind joggers used in Central Park. Dr. Yes. Gregor. of course. and stuck it in his box. She chewed it thoughtfully and nodded her approval. Mareth says you're running the war. "Are they. "I sure could've used them a few days ago. He walked out of the museum and down the hall. though." }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Thought I'd take them back up to the hospita l. And you are. very precious to me. a book of maps of Manhattan. Wicked-looking s words and daggers were at their belts. Neveeve. It didn't look like something a warrior would c arry.}{\par \pard \hyph par The last time Gregor had seen Solovet was months ago. Spread the goodness around.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet was standing in front of him. For the first time he notice d how they were dressed.

They both shook their heads no. "How on earth am I going to lose these guys?"}{ \par \pard \hyphpar He took his time getting up to the nursery. L augh. . most of the other rooms in the h all seemed to be used for storage. Then he caught a glimpse of the stone turtle at the far end of the room."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor looked behind him and saw that Horatio and Marcus were standing on guard at the doorway. Both of his front legs were in casts. But he could never count on that happening."}{\par \pard \hyphpar She walked off." Gregor gestured for them to follow him and started for the old nursery. Better to be on good terms with his guards. "Now what?" he thought. "Well. and fo r a minute.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The nursery was in an almost deserted wing of the palace. Fight. Come on. Lay his cards on the table. pressing his face into her curly head. When Greg or became what the Underlanders called a rager. he transformed into an accurate and deadly fighter." said Dulcet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Do nothing won out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A warm light shone out of the nursery door.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Cartesian. had made a nest out of blankets. He set t he box down and lifted her up into his arms for a real hug. Do nothing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Greetings. hoping for some brilliant plan to st rike him like a lightning bolt. He li mped a lot. Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Horatio." said Solovet. leaving Gregor with the two formidable soldiers.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Cookie?" said Gregor. We will discuss your future then. He was just going to have to do his be st with whatever circumstances he found. Marcus. Boots."The guards are not to keep the rats out. They were tal l with rippling muscles and hardened looks on their faces. these are my new bodyguards. She pointed over to the alcove where the nanny. He stepped inside and heard a please d squeak. the adult mouse Gregor had brought back from the Firelands. She's probably with the mice. He sized them u p and determined it had been a good decision not to start a fight. "What's going on?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I helping Dulcie take care of the baby mouses. "I see you h ave brought company. would you mind very much standing outside of the door? I am af raid you may frighten the nibbler pups. Dulcet. Maybe. but he made no move to stop it. Solovet's men through and through. It must have hurt." said Solovet pleasantly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey. to show his knee was really badly injured and there was no way he co uld run." he said. if his rager side kicked in." said Dulcet. Protest. "Yeah. holding out the package. "Co me to see me in an hour.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We have orders to attend the Overlander at all times. Gregor had no idea if he would have stood a chance against them if they had all drawn their weapons. "They are to keep you in. She smelled like a n herbal bath and milk and her own sweet self. Bu t he looked far better than he had when Gregor had first seen him. Run." said Horatio doubtfully. This way . She raised her eyebrows slightly. my sister will want some." Boots said. Act offended. Dulcet sat among the blankets now with the six baby mice crawling around her. left for dead at the base of a cliff. One of the baby mice climbed up on Cartesian's back. As far as he could tel l from the glimpses he caught through doorways. He was still very weak. lay in th e nest as well. None did. It was a comforting smell. surrounded by scores of mice who had not survived the f all. he almost felt okay."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 3}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor just stared at her as his options flipped through his head. its face in a vicious snarl. "Gre-go!" Boots ran over and flung her arms around his knees.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I cannot afford to have you running off on any more picnics.

" said Gregor." she said. He wondered briefly if he might be able to get her to distract the gu ards while he sneaked through the turtle shell."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm sorry.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hide-and-seek! Hide-and-seek!" she squealed. Mareth said they sent two divisions to help." he thought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. "Hey. ind icating the pups with one of his casts.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I promise he shall be safe in my hands. Ares was probably fly ing around the Spout at this moment. careful not to remove the foil package from the box and rev eal his travel supplies underneath. then wiggled free. I do not wish to speak of this before them. "They are beginning to understand Englis h and they have enough fodder for nightmares already. "She felt they would fare bette r on the river than under the gnawers' control. clapping his hands for attention. That would only bring in more people.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You are the warrior. "Mmm." said Gregor. because they gathered around him. But he was wrong. you want to give the babies a treat?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boots trotted over to the box with him and was delighted to find the cookies. "Yes."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She was right. It let her rock it for a bit. "Do you know these pups?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They are my sister's children. "I rock the babies. hopping up and down expectantly. "Mouses like my hair." She picked up the nearest mouse pup and cradled it in her arms. he was going to have to get her out of the nursery before he made his escape."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Thank you. Boots could almost always be counted on to pick one game. Sh e stuck one in her mouth right off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Me! Me!" said Boots." said Gregor. spraying crumbs everywhere. The mouse had been either so delirious or so heav ily drugged in the Firelands that Gregor didn't think he'd made much of an impre ssion." said Cartesian. She excitedly passed around the cookies to everyone in the nest. and Gregor realized he had a so ft spot for Dulcet. "Man. Boots giggled . "Do you rem ember me?" he asked Cartesian. But how could he get everybody out of the r oom? Suggest a visit somewhere in the palace? That would be weird because Cartes ian couldn't travel far with those legs. The babies might get scared an d try to hide and \uc2\u8212-. He piled coo kies into her hands. Now!" he thought. feeling bad he had even brought up the subject. bad idea. huh? Why don't you give one to everybody?" suggested Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The pups made happy smacking sounds as they munched away on the cookies. Gregor plastered a smile across his face as he watched the scene. "Come. He didn't want to get Dulcet in trouble with Solovet." said Cartesian. but inside his mind w as racing. and Gregor exhaled in relief. She didn't. remembering the mouse pups he had seen suffocating to death in the volcanic pit.}{\pa . placed its front paws on her shoulder. "Is it that easy for people to tell I lik e Luxanow?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I suppose we may risk standing outside of the door. Have you any word o f our friends in the Firelands?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. but then abandoned the idea. "Did their mother \uc2\u8212--?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "I do not know." said Cartesian. Pretend to accidentally knock over a to rch and start a fire? No."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor squatted beside the nest and stroked one of the velvety pups. Gregor examined her face for any sign that sh e returned Horatio's feelings. and played with one of her curls. "I've got to get out of here.wait! That was it!}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Who wants to play a game?" asked Gregor. Somehow.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For a moment. Or else she was just a lot better at hiding it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What should we play. Boots got down and cli mbed into the nest. Boots?" asked Gregor. not letting himself imagine what might be happening on that battlefield now. And if the fire got out of hand someone could get hurt. M arcus. Boots." said Dulcet with a laugh. Horatio." said Dulcet. The pups did seem to understand that much." conceded Horatio. Horatio's face lost its hard edge.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I have treats!" crowed Boots. I remember you. Haven't heard back yet.

" then a coup le of the pups. great. The second he was out of his guards' sight l ines. A couple held old furniture. arms crossed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Cartesian hobbled out in the hallway to watch. He didn't even try to be quiet anymore."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sure." His feet flew down the stairs. but with only myself to watch them I felt it too un manageable.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor and Dulcet did a quick check of the rooms. but it was for her s ake that he had needed to use it.r \pard \hyphpar "All right. Or so everyone but Grego r supposed.. gigg les. letting go of his weapon. Hide-and-seek. and we have Horatio and Marcus!" said Dulcet. "Wait. and began to count to twenty.. whoever was It sat by Cartesi an. "We are to play hide-and-seek. tick. Blankets. He was in charge of making sure no one peeked. He looked in one room. so it was more like a stone pla yground. First Boots was "It. "One. It was hard. the one with the awful leer.eighteen. He wi shed he could have kept the secret longer. but there was nothing particul arly dangerous in any of them." he thought . That way. for Luxa's sake.'"}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar He placed himself as close to the nursery as he could. Once he'd turned up missing. Gregor grabbed the box and sword belt and sprinted for the stone turtle. but soon Dulcet had them positioned at eith er end of the hallway. but no one could leave the area without going by them. then Dulcet. tick. let me take this thing off. The guards were in the doorwa y the moment they heard their names. The game would end soon. Time was running ou t. No one hid in the nursery." He removed h is sword belt and set it on the box. "Go. quickly climbed inside.}{\par \pard \hyphpar At the bottom of the stairs. Horatio and Marcus were in their places. Boots's sandals.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Perhaps with you and Cartesian here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. tick. There were still no footsteps from above. here I come!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor surveyed the hall. covered his eyes. "."}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "That's no good. they might be looking for him now. "We have played many times in here. Maybe we could use some of the other rooms out in the hall. ti ck. Can you help us?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar The guards did not want to at first.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay. tick. Do the mice know how to play?" he asked. he could barely make out the shouts comi . tick." Gregor could hear the scampering of mouse feet. but there was no water flowing through it now. baskets. and he helped the little ones count slowly to twenty. tick. to discourage anyone from hiding there." said Dulcet. One had once been a bathroom . two.. "Go as fast as you can. then pretended to hear something fr om the nursery and crossed into it. Lots of good safe places to hide. While the others hid. there'd be confusion." sa id Gregor. tick. tick. You will be hard-pre ssed to find a hiding spot they have not already discovered. we could do it." said Gregor. he went down the first fl ight of steps in total darkness. a nd coils of rope were stored in some of the others. tick. H e shoved his hand in the thing's mouth and found the latch that popped open the shell. He lifted it. hoping for a chance to escape. he almost ran into the second turtle.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Oh. eyes trained on him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Gregor went into the nursery twice. Even if Ares had managed to slip out of the hospital unnoticed. I know they are becoming b ored with this room. four ." said Dulcet. yes. "My turn to be 'It. and then So lovet would have that room turned inside out until she found the stairway." Gregor announced at the end of Dulcet's round.. three.. Ready or not. tick} . nineteen. twen ty. tick.. and closed it quietly behind him. and hushed squeaks. tick. A fraid any light might be seen shining from the turtle. the others could play the game using six rooms. I had considered that. but both times a mouse pup hid in there as well. tick. As he opened the shell. I'll help.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Tick. He pu lled out a flashlight from under the cookies and snapped it on.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No one will find us." said Gregor. batteries. The trip must have taken six or seven hours. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "With Henry. Could it be that he was finally getting a small amount of control over it? The idea gave him confidence but it was temper ed by the memories of past failures. thinking of his mom and Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "How did you find this way?" asked Gregor. Overlander. anyway. yeah. That has long p assed. "They will be after us. shoes. He stopped practicing and it turned off."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. their eyes pained. .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor immediately organized himself." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Henry was Luxa's cousin and Ares's old bond." said Ares. He leaned his head into the damp air over the Spout. But he must have still been really tired because the next thing he knew. putting his box behind him as he fastened on his sword. They did not fly through the usual wide caverns but through a series of smaller. Although he was in no danger at the moment. At on e point Gregor had to dismount so they both could squeeze through a crack in a r ock wall. Ares caught him instantly and took off at warp speed. They both drank their fill at the spring.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares awoke after a couple of hours.. At first. but they saw me g o into the room." said Ares. twisting tunnels. It was essential.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I must sleep. their voices would become tight."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Maybe this is a good thing. and Gregor jumped into the void.ng from several floors above his head. He starte d practicing and it came back to life. si nce much of what we did was unsanctioned. If all who know the secret should perish in the Fir elands. "It may provide a means of escape if the castle is under siege. someone should know of it. Then they took off down a whole new set of tunnels. "No one saw me go through the turtle. Practiced makin g cuts in the air with Sandwich's sword." said Gregor. Still. We spent many hours finding alternative paths.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Drop. He caught a fish that they ate quickly. Still caring. Later."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's true. At first he gave t he sword all of the credit. the rager sensation was hum ming quietly deep inside him. that would be amazing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ready?" asked Gregor. Ares was beat. and remaining cookies went into the pink backpack. The tape. Gregor had supposed this was because they now hated him s o much. He tried to feel as impervious as the knight back in the Cloisters." he heard Ares say in an urgent tone."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Ares went right out while Gregor kept watch. Put on his new shoes and laced them up. if he could learn to turn that rager switch on and off . When Henry came up. Ares was waking him." said Ares. water bottles." said Gregor. too. Not being able to simply write Henry off. Shall we go . He had betrayed them all to the rat s on Gregor's first trip to the Underland. He cleaned the water bottles and fi lled them at the spring. he'd understood it was because they still loved him so much.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Barely got out. "Sleep if you can." said Ares. Neither Luxa nor Ares spoke about him very often. They'll find the passage now.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "So this route is pretty safe?" asked Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Although Gregor didn't think he would sleep with his mind so full. Then he toss ed the box into the darkness and flattened himself on Ares's back to provide as little wind resistance as possible. he stretched out. What a weapon! It was almost as if he h ad only to think of a motion and the sword was already there. although he couldn't think what use it might be. "But it will not be for long. "You?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The doctors gave me fifteen minutes to exercise over the river.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares took a completely new route back to the Firelands. He secured one flashlight on his left fore arm with duct tape and hooked the other to his belt." said the bat.. That wa s the hard part. They were back on the cliff overlooking the jungle wh ere they had said good-bye to their friends a couple of days ago. "Yes. He stuck the chess set in. Then he realized he had to give himself some credit as well. "I am ready for whatever lies ahead.

}{ \par \pard \hyphpar It didn't take Ares long to hone in on a destination. and all around him. then he remembered why he was here. bats. beneath him. whom Ares had laid to rest in the pit where the mice had die d. Where they weren't bloodstained. making everyone largely unrecognizable. A person flew by and a packet hit Gregor on the chest.and it cut do wn on the reek of blood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nothing in his experience had prepared him for the sight of a battle between the humans and the rats. Something obscured the faces of the people and the bats. But as they burst out of the tunnel. The mask was stuffy. pouri ng out of rat bodies on the ground. metal against stone. had all been buried under the lava flow. but using it sure beat inhaling that junk in the air \uc2\u8212-. one for him a nd one for Ares. He jetted across the large cavern and into a long.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No!" replied the bat." said Gregor. The whole thing just looked like some big free-for-all. Bats swirled around Gregor. That's what everybody was wearing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was next to impossible to find anyone in this mess.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 4}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares had blasted straight into the war zone. wanting to be prepared for what awaited him. taking his place on Ares. shrieks. There was no trace of them at all. let's start there. Screams. Then his thoughts turned to the Bane. even after all he had been through and witnessed. carrying their human bonds. For a mom ent. thereby eliminating it. he couldn't se e it. He quickly positioned the ba t mask on Ares and slipped his own over his mouth and nose. Clay. he felt sickened. he didn't exactly know how to join in the battle. Most of the hu mans had drawn swords.}{\par \par d \hyphpar Gregor drew his sword. flying through the tunnels still covered in deep layers of ash. the rats.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do you see Luxa?" he asked Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They were in one of the Firelands' enormous caverns. maybe? He saw an Underlander woman toss a burn ed-out torch to the ground and replace it with a new one. Gregor unrolled the packet and found two face masks. Dripping off of people. she was quiet. It was the last place they had seen both the mice and their rat captors. Ares retraced their path back to the volcano. "Don you this!" he though t he heard them shout. it was still difficult to see because the army of rats had churned the volcanic dust on the floor into a choking cloud that rose to the ceiling. low tunnel. "Can we jump in anywhere?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Anywhere. and hum ans were coated in dust.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was just going to have to keep an eye out and hope for the best.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "What do we do?" Gregor said. staining bats' fur. When they came out at the Queen. The battleground was bright er than Gregor had expected because the walls were studded with burning torches held in globs of something. It dawned on Gregor that the main goal of ea ch side was to relieve the other of its blood.back to the Queen?" This is what the previous prophecy had called the volcano th at had been the death of the nibblers." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Despite the extra light. It wasn't just the masks that made it difficult.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But even now. Should he report to s omeone? Was there some plan being executed? Because if there was. Gregor's senses were assaulted by w hat lay before him. Even in the dust he might be able to see that monstrous figure.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Blood seemed to be everywhere. The air thickened with dust. he gasped and almost lost his grip on his weapon. but he wasn't sure because the cavern was filled with a d in of voices. Bu t he could not spot any rat that was larger than average. The mice and the little bat Thalia. In the m eantime.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. something in Gre . He could fly ar ound for hours looking for Luxa and still not find her. Gregor's ears began to catch sounds as well .

the reason they must die had to do with ." said Gregor. you will have to trust my choices. not only to him but to those who were not warriors. Gregor's sword made contact with a pair of claws that was just about to shred a spot on Ares's left wing. as Ares looped back for another attack. He concentrated hard for a second to establish his place in all of this chaos." he said. It was less a question of attacking than of counteri ng the attacks of the mobs of rats.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Whatever you think." said Gregor. and Gregor was just going to have to go with them. they could not stop an d have some detailed conversation over what target to attack next. When things move quickly. It had to do with what had happened. Ares was goin g to have to make most of those decisions. In the heat of battle.." said Gregor. had to be somewhere out in this mayhem. Gregor and Ares. The one real battle Gregor had fought in had been with the ants in the jungle. but Gregor wanted to see how high the rats could jump.. Gregor had been fighting very well until one of the rats had smashed his flashlight.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar A look of shock crossed the rat's face as it recognized them." said Ares. He had crawled around o n the tunnel floor like a mouse cornered by a couple of alley cats and barely es caped with his life. Twirltongue.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could hear the phrase rippling through the army of rats as word of his pr esence spread. Even in this mess. The rat was leaping for the injured woman just as Gregor's sword ma de contact. no doubt eager to claim him as a prize. Wherever they turned. and would happen. The reason he must kill the rats. A bat hovered over her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Watch your wings.}{\par \pard \hyphpar And with that. it would be hard to overlook a bat as imposing as Ares with an Overlander rider . A group of about eight rat s had gathered beneath him. the hypnotically p ersuasive rat who advised the Bane.gor balked at the idea of simply going down and running his sword through a rat. if these rats were not stopped. But he had no intention of dying.. Not while the Bane was still alive. If he . tipping sideways to allow Gregor the closest pos sible range. Ares threw them into the battle. a group of furious rats awaited them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That is the trick. His ambivalence was interfering with his ability to connect with his rager side . so Gr egor redirected his attention to the scene below him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They had never flown in a battle together. The rat turned on him with a ferocious hiss. there was no danger of being without light. But they had trained for hours and hours in the arena and had been in enough tight spots tog ether to know they could count on each other completely. At that time."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor understood what Ares meant.and Luxa. h ad to do with .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares dove for the charging rat. "It's the warrior! The warrior!" the rat screamed. Blood po ured from a gash in her leg.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The bat they had come to aid had swept up the wounded woman and flown off." Because now. but if we are t oo close. Ares could e asily fly elsewhere. "Let them laugh. I'm with you. I cannot evade them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The buzzing began in Gregor's veins. the gasping mice in the pit and his mother lying in the hospit al and Boots and those baby mice in the nursery \uc2\u8212-. His blade severed one of the rat's ears. Now everything was different.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. who must be. He was surrounded by a blur of razor-sharp c laws and deadly teeth that all seemed bent on tearing open one of his main arter ies.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Down there! By the right wall!" cried Ares. The most athletic made it a good fif teen feet in the air. He knew the rats had been laughing at him of late because of an e ncounter he'd had a few weeks ago under Regalia. Ares dipped down and the entire pack leaped up. Ares ha d been struggling to survive the plague in the hospital in Regalia. "To fight them we must be close.. had sicced two of her buddies on him. "Go.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That got its attention. with the numerous torches . l eaving him in darkness and reducing him to helplessness.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could see a woman trying unsuccessfully to rise from the ground. slashing at an oncoming rat with its claws." thought Gregor. Now he had seen what they had done to the mice.

It could even cleanly cut off a row of rat teeth in one stroke. through the joint above a for eleg. for the first time. It took a lot of power. Gregor felt better than he had in ages. Overlander?" Luxa had said to him when t hey'd been arguing about her starting the war. Gregor and Ares were among a group that was dealing with the rats along one front. a snarling group of two dozen rats ran to stay directly under Ares. he was determined to fulfill the prophecy and take the white rat with him. He didn't have to think about how to wield his sword. feint right.it had been against snakes in the jungle \uc2\u8212-. nearly blocked out by the dust cloud it caused. But there was a second line of intense fighting on the far side of t he cavern. They were both i n uncharacteristically good moods. Or maybe it was just the relief of finally doing something. for the superiority of th e sword he had inherited from Sandwich. Mareth had w anted him to get the feeling of driving his sword into a real body. If he had n eeded the images of the mice and his loved ones to propel himself into battle. it moved instinctively from target to target. "What's happening ove r there?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Ares flew toward the cloud. "No. althoug h he couldn't be sure. Gregor began to make out more of the scene. wing block. which had upse t him at the time. "You really have no idea how much they hate you. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. The rager sensation was pulsing through him but he was managing not t o give in to it completely. and then sometimes ran into bone before it could reach the vital organs inside.he had apparently been grinning his head off. Of obliterating that feeling of int ense frustration they had experienced as they watched the mice suffocate to deat h while they were helpless to stop it.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Man." he thou ght.but in the arena. Grateful. they were both flying high. more powerful." said Gregor. loop back \uc2\u8212-. he did now. but neither of them had more than scratche s. too. something real.. he thought. a wall of humans was on the ground trying to hold off an intense rat attack. and Gregor could hear the rare {\i Huh-huh-huh} that meant Ares was laughing. Gregor laughed. Mareth had put Greg or and Ares through their paces a thousand times this summer \uc2\u8212-. Gregor had to wonder if his bat might not have a little rager blood in him. and Ares's fur had b ecome damp and sticky with the stuff. Sandwich's sword was to a common Underla nder sword as a steak knife was to a butter knife. Sometimes t hey had worked with cow carcasses that were headed for the kitchen. It moved like lightning and s lid far more easily across a throat. A lon g shelf of rock jutted out of the cavern wall about twelve feet from the ground. Ares!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar For the first time.}{\par \pard \hyphpar At any rate. then muscle. between ribs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ready for more?" asked Ares. He injured many rats. Perhaps all of the hours of training in the arena we re helping him stay focused. with the battle around him. It was a lot harder than it looked. Then something caught his eye. too. On the ground. The lessons with the dead cows had always made Gregor somewhat qu easy. At least i t could in Gregor's hand. Well. the action on the ground seemed to have taken on some kind o f order. but he was grateful for them now. "It's the rager thing. some of them fatally. The last time he had fought \uc2\u8212-. these rats want me dead!" Gregor remarked to Ares when they had lifted abo ve the fighting to take a breather.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Has this only just occurred to you?" asked Ares.dive a ttack. Their bats were performing some kind of strafing mane uver from the air.was going out. he didn't care. go for it. do you. Gregor became more confident . t hey were rapidly replaced by the desire for self-preservation.. hang on a mi nute. diving down on the rats and literally ripping chunks of flesh off of their bodies.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . The blade had to pierce the hide. But here. The movements were so familiar. Under the edge of the shelf. but the numbers attacking him only increased.}{\par \pard \hyphpar In fact. Soon Gregor was covered in blood. Gregor' s sword had been encountering air or strategically placed sand-bags. And every time it connected.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar And as for Ares laughing.

since the humans were at a complete disadvantage fighting on the ground. though. But it was a very dangerous task. He slashed his blade across the air a nd then hit a defensive position.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 5}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's feet automatically began to pivot. A combination of drool and blood dripped off of their fangs. The humans had formed one of their sta ndard defenses. He di d. There was no cho ice. "I am here !"}{\par \pard \hyphpar The rats had immediately sensed the opening made by Ripred's incapacitation. Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. {\i Mmm-mmm. Gregor could see that. coming at him with multiple attacks. He just had time to turn once before the rats were within sword's reach.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares didn't question him. and the entire pack went for Gregor's thro at.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor squinted into the dust and could just make out a line of mice.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I've got to get down there!" Gregor shouted. But a trio of nasty-looking rats was still coming at him. Although it was hoarse almost bey ond recognition. in rare moments when he was not simply defending himself. so that it was nearly impossible to fend off both blows at once. but he did know that even Ripred had a breaking point. it could only belong to one creature. he did.}{\par \pard \hyph par He dug his sneakers into the grit and stood his ground. an arc. though. the onslaught was the heaviest.with the first cut. the pure viciousness that told Gregor that he was dealing with a whole new level of opponent. Gregor did not know how long he had been holding that position. He'd gathered enough momentum to damage the two coming in on his left \uc2\u8212-. But it was the look in their eyes. Sev en gathered into a pack. Had a nice little vacation. but as he angled in. The person fighting to his right drew off another p air. He was spinning so fast that a funnel cloud of dust had risen up around him. well.. These three made Twirlto ngue's buddies seem like cream puffs. Ripred still managed to tear its throat out. look who's decided to show up! Smelling like pudding and bubble bath."It is the nibblers! Our army is trying to get them to safety!" said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The sort of white-noise roar that sometimes accompanied his rager state was ther e. because now the rager effect was in full gear.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar At the mouth of the tunnel. The stone shelf made aerial fighting unthink able.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For a moment. but he was knocked backward har d and seemed stunned. get glimpses of their vulnerab le eyes and necks where he could counterattack. They were larger for one thing. surprised by the appearance of their new oppon ent. nearer to Ripred's size. the rats hung back. splintering hi s vision.. Ripred's spin was thrown off as an enormous rat drove straight into h im.one in the neck and one in the eyes \uc2 \u8212-.} So glad you could make it. They knew how to fight as a team. did you? While the rest of us were out here breathing sulfur and eating . allowing him only to perceive the deadly teeth and claws and. Then the leader let out a growl. The humans were protecting them as they scurried from a cave along the cavern wall to a tu nnel opening some twenty yards away. Any rat that came into his reach was instantly kil led. obviously preparing to charge the cave entrance. But holding down the center point. Gregor heard him call. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor landed squarely in the spot where Ripred had been standing. Both human and rat b odies were piling up at an alarming rate. sinking up to his ankles in the muck of dust and blood. the key position in t he formation. Thei r scarred faces indicated years of fighting."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Just then. not {\i . What was it he had said once? "I sta rt to crack at about four hundred to one. The rats would be picking the bats off right and left at that altitude. but a voice was managing to cut through it. was a rat.

who was Luxa's gran dmother."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She's sick?" Gregor got out. " said Ripred. Two to go. As you can see. A claw came within inches of his thro at and he took off the rat's foreleg at the joint.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sick? Well. Frankly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sprang to his feet." said Ripred. We didn't have masks until the army showed up and by then she'd been breathing this stuff for days.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But frankly I'm a bit concerned about her. It fell back with a scream of pain. Ripred had the center point of the arc again. Perdita.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You know. and then was still and silent.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She's got grit. The rat immediately lunged for him. I've been getting to know that girl-friend of yours. " You're going to have to have a little more mental discipline than that. Was this Ripred's idea of on-the-job traini ng? Had that thing about Luxa been just a test? Was she really okay? Gregor want ed to ask. Gregor had stabbed hi m twice. But she'd recovered from her injuries since the n." Ripred continue d almost lazily. With both hands he wielded a thick broadsword that would easily have come up to Gregor's shoulder. Denying it would only bring on another speech. The last rat was a huge brute with teeth gnawed into razor-sharp poi nts. That gave us something to chew on for a while but I can't really c all it filling. howling in rage. and Gregor had trained with her. I'll give her that. boy. too. Besides. and then there's been the little matter of freeing the nibblers. it screamed all the wa y to the ground. Would have made her grandmother proud. but the words wouldn 't come. His opponent was relentless. but he was pretty sure Ripred would knock him into next week if he di d.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Get up!" Ripred repeated with even less patience. could hardly fight in the thing. Oh. ran int o two rats on a beach.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The last thing Gregor needed now was to think about Solovet. t ell him he was being distracting. But now Ripred's words had his attenti on. He fell to the right. On his left was a woman Gregor recognized. my lungs are tougher than hers. The rat tried to twist around to at tack the bat. He would have remembered him. Gregor caught one of t he rats in the windpipe and it retreated. but it was hopeless. as if they had all the time in the world to chat. because he must have been cl ose to seven feet tall." said Ripred. of course. I'm not even sure she's still alive.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred stepped over Gregor.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "She's not my girlfriend!" Gregor wanted to yell at Ripred. Ripred already knew his feelings about Luxa. On Ripred's right was a man who Gregor had ne ver seen before. and the rat he was fighting nailed his head with its tai l. but it only seemed to enrage him. Why was he concerned about Luxa? Was she sick? Injured? "What?" he managed t o bark out.}{\p . But as a rodent. Howard had the idea of cutting off the leather pocket on your o ld back-pack.eating} exactly. "I'm not wearing a mask. He hollered a lot when he fought. the rat s didn't especially go for the idea. When Ares released it. pinning his sword arm beneath him. Like when he was trying to talk to someone in a dream but no sound came out. He had tried to escape.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's hand faltered. Ares had sunk his claws into the thing's rump and he carried it high into the cavern. Gregor braced himself for the teeth when suddenly the rat was ya nked up into the air. and how she might be reacting to his running off. and was rescued by a party of humans and bats. She had almost been killed the very first night Gregor had fallen to the Underland." said Ripred. But he didn't have a breath to spare and formi ng words at the moment seemed very difficult.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She needs some clean air. No. Perdita ha d been badly injured that night." Gregor wanted to tell Ripred to shut up. not satisfying in the way one might have hoped. She fought with a sword and a dagger and cou ld hit almost as many bloodballs during drills as Gregor could. which made her o ne of the Regalians' top fighters. You should have seen her taking those nibbl ers right out from under the Bane's nose. cuffing him upside the head with a paw as he went. Now get up!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor rubbed his head in confusion. yes.

And as the battle continued. Despite the grim circumstances.when people began to call. but no one had time to respond. their bats were executing a full-scale aerial attack on the rats. Both the humans and the rats seemed to be directing all of their soldiers there. as could the oncoming rats. saving many humans besides Gregor. and then dove into the tunnel.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . But that big guy with the broadsword on the other side of Ripred. too. and keeping a foothold was harder than ever. He cou ld "see" by echolocation if need be. "The nibblers are in! The nib blers are in!" He guessed this meant that all of the nibblers had made it into t he tunnel.thirty minutes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She lives. He couldn't think about that now. Then they. was forced into the tunnel. Again and again he picked off the deadliest fighters . whose only response wa s a string of curses. This was getting trickier by the moment because he was now up to his knees in b loody ash. The light from the cavern was growing faint. M aybe there was some plant in the tunnel that was flammable. He heard repeated cries of "N o torches! No torches inside!" and could only wonder what that was about. Pretty bad. Soon. rip a clawful of flesh from a rat's backside.} {\par \pard \hyphpar It was hard to tell how much time had passed \uc2\u8212-. humans and b ats carrying wounded began to make for the tunnel. Ripred took a second out to growl. he was going to have problems. "Ares!" hoping for a last-minute rescue from a rat attack. began to slowly fal l back. Mainly they would dive down. causing some w elcome disruption.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Thanks.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A few minutes later.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor wasn't the only one joining up with the forces at the tunnel mouth. He was at first grateful. probably. under the tremendous pressure of the rats.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "Retreat! It's too dark for you!" Ripred said to the man. Those carrying torches hurled them like javelins into the army of rats. so he had no idea what condition they were in. so Gregor just held his position.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Fliers. That meant he was going t o have to rely entirely on the flashlight taped to his arm to see.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Gregor had backed only a few steps into the tunnel when he knew he was going to run into trouble. but the bat was proving to be qu ite remarkable in his own right." said Gregor. an order was given to retreat into the tunnel. go!" Perdita called. He had to focus on the battle. It was all he coul d do to keep alive. Ares and the last two bats swept across the rat ar my. He'd yet to get a good look at them. even the front line. Perdita could p robably get by on what his flashlight was putting out. Gregor could h ear desperate people begin to call out. becaus e in a matter of minutes. then embarrassed because he rea lized Perdita now knew about him and Luxa. Around him. Overlander!" said Perdita as he stepped into place.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He knew Ares was an excellent fighting partner. and she managed to shoot him an encouraging look between attacks. Some weird moss or s omething. boy!" at him. peppering them with torches. But Ares was one of a handful of bats with the strength to lift a full-grown rat off of the groun d and drop it to its death. But Ripred was right. "Not you. But what about the others? Ripred didn't need light to fight. maybe forty-five \uc2\u8212-.ar \pard \hyphpar "By me!" Ripred ordered and flicked his tail to indicate where Gregor should fig ht next to Perdita. Maybe everybody knew. and w hip quickly back into the air to escape damage to their wings. Since so many of the humans were now fighting o n the ground. "Why no torches?" he yelled. still composed of Perdita. only twenty or so were left defending the tunnel mouth .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Retreat seemed to be something the humans and bats could execute quickly. Ripred. Gregor could not help taking satisfaction that his much maligned bond was finally getting some appreciation. Ther e was no time to ask for an explanation of the battle orders. He clicked th e switch to turn it to high beam and was reassured by the amount of visibility i t restored. an d the giant man Gregor didn't know. Gregor.

York!" said Gregor. cracking the glass. There was no time to tape it to York's arm o r even explain what the flashlight was. calling pointers to him. but the flashlight made it impossibl e to talk. Ares fle . The tip of a tail made contact with his flashlight and knocked the beam sideways. could it be that some of his confi dence was slipping away? A rat's tail came frighteningly close to taking out his flashlight. It was all he could do to sort of bob forward. At th e far end were lit torches but they were placed very high on the walls. The oil disappeared.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey. This was one thing he could do.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Somewhere behind him. He was still managing. And between handling his own rats and try ing to keep Perdita from falling into darkness.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can't hold on!" Gregor wanted to scream.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Humans on bats were flying by. after his h umiliating encounter with Twirltongue and her pals. Before him lay a huge cavern. crammed the end of the handle between his teeth. were backup soldiers. another claw tore through the laces on one of his shoes. and kept hacki ng away. as he was realizing. The bulb was beginning to dim. As the rats drove them deeper into the tunnel. He went toward the light. Literally. but he was doing more wading than anything else. Huddled far below on the ground lay hundreds upon hundreds of mice. but carefully. He ripped off his mask. black pool that f illed the floor of the tunnel. As Gregor straightened it. Moving forward. The man looked over and Gregor tossed him the flashlig ht. Gregor supposed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The pool became shallower and now Gregor could run. and began a spin attack. He landed on his back in a pool of thick. A claw caught the duct tape.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A rat claw got through his defenses and opened up a cut on his calf. that he was worthless withou t it. his sneakers hi t cinders. slippery liquid and came up sputtering. York's light showed they were in a shiny. Gregor realized they were targeting his light. But he had to at least let someone know that he was fading. his own having dropped somewhere into the pool when he c ried out \uc2\u8212-. almost ripping it free.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Run! All of you!" snapped Ripred. but in this gloom." he thought. They must know. but he never saw th em.that York and Perdita had not hesitated to follow Ripred's instructions. t hat they couldn't count on him. carefully bec ause the stuff was so slick. all of the light disappeared except the beams from the flashlights.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That is. hoping the stuff wouldn't ge t any deeper." Perdita prompted him. and he accelerated. that was much less dusty than the one they had battled in. but he got a grip on the blade of his sword and began to sprint. So Gregor ran after them as well. he tried to run.}{\par \pard \hyphpar What was going on? Gregor scrambled to his feet and saw \uc2\u8212-. pulled the flashlight free. And. The f loor sloped down and the liquid rose up to his chest. "Oil.by the ligh t of York's flashlight. if his rager abilities left him he was just another twelve-year-old kid who'd had a few sword lessons. He yank ed off his mask. until there it was. that \uc2\u8212--}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey!" Gregor yelped as his feet flew Out from under him. at least a qua rter-mile long. just barely blocking a tail that came straight for his mouth. He could hear his track coach's voice coming from what seemed like another lifetime. there was no time to turn his he ad. breaking out of the tunne l but still up to his knees in oil. What else could it be? Gregor held his sword high over his head as he went along.Gregor yanked his spare flashlight off of his belt and turned it on. What should he do? T ell Ripred? Keep fighting? Cut and run? Because frankly. The light at t he end of the tunnel. anyway. picking up mouse stragglers and wounded. and stuck it between h is teeth as he had instructed York to do.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor didn't know exactly what was happening. He could feel the power d raining out of him and the seeds of fear beginning to grow. "Hey! You o n the end!" he yelled. moving forward.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "York. "In your teeth!" he instructed. But York seemed to get the idea. No response. a really tired one at that. whether he was r aging or not.

he couldn't help thinking of what that must have meant. and glared at her a moment. As he came to the bank at the far side. dressed in white to signify that she was a doctor. She stared at the blood for a moment. "Luxa? Luxa?" He could not keep the desperation out of his voice. and then collapsed to the ground. "There!" Gregor looked back. glistening form barreled out of the mo uth and made for them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not yet. uncorked a bo ttle and held it to Luxa's lips. only a roaring fire before the tunnel.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Now. a ba ll of flame burst toward the ceiling. Then he gave her a nod of approval. He looked up to where Ares was circli ng overhead. the black smoke suffocating those who had been far enough u p the tunnel to escape the fire. "Now whose idea was this?" he croaked out. it would be d eadly if it caught on any of their oil-soaked bodies. stra ining to see the tunnel opening." said a nearby Underlander. igniting the rat army." T hen. spotted Luxa leaning against the rock. as the first rat heads appeared. but barely. A large.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Shall I give the signal. th is time through a shallow river with a current. gasping for breath. Your Highness?" The voice was tense with urgency. For a moment. the army of rats would be after h im.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Queen Luxa's.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred turned his head. Ripred." said Luxa. Three humans on bats were jetting toward the tunnel with the black pool. He turned and there wa s Luxa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then another danger arose.w in for him but Gregor waved him toward the mice."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar A signal must have been given because the three archers shot their flaming arrow s into the pool of oil spilling out of the cave.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . just a few yards behind him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 6}}{\par \pard \hyphpar A dozen people ran for her but Gregor reached her first.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor collapsed. There was n o trace of the rat army. She was still conscious. "Wait for them. As the first made contact.} {\par \pard \hyphpar An Underlander." Gregor could barely make out the hoarse voice."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa opened her mouth to answer but instead began to cough into her hand. rasping cough that shook her entire body. th e rats burned alive. Another w ave of coughing racked her body and fresh blood ran from the side of her mouth. When she removed her hand from her mouth. He looked back across the cavern. "Ripred? Where's Ripred?" he shouted. it was covered in red.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred slowly dragged himself onto the beach and surveyed the scene. Gregor could hear Luxa whispering. he heard her say quietly. Your Highness?" shouted a voice. hands reached for the pups and pulled him up onto a beach. The flames had s topped at the far side of the river. eyes fixed on the tunnel. He plucked a struggling mouse pu p from the water and hoisted it onto his shoulder. She was drenched in oil and so weak she had to support herself on a rock. The last few mice were being lifted from the ground and flown here. Although it was not as fierce. some of whom were unable even to get to their feet. "Now. Fortunately it was able to cl ing there on its own because his arms were soon full of a second pup. only to see the big rat splash into the river before him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Behind him. the horror of it all. Any second now. So much oil had been dragged across the cavern that t he fire spread toward them as well. as if faintly surprised. Gregor knew it must have blasted back into the tunnel. He rolled her onto her back and gentl y propped her head up on his lap. wait for them. incinerating everyone in it s path.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sprang to his feet. "Good plan. Suddenly the cinders vanished and he was wading again. They each carried a bow in one hand and a flaming arrow in the other. They were safe. across the pool.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just give him a few more moments. cut off by the water. It was a horrible.

If I die ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We can take them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But Ripred cut her off. I'll look after them. "I have life. But ev en though they flew through the main thoroughfares. N ot much else. he thought he had lost her. New York City. a paper h e had written on spiders." said Howard faintly. when they had been caught in a web of powerful air currents." said the doctor. smoothing bac k Luxa's hair." said the doctor. in fact. She will be right behind you. crouched down to wipe his cousin's face with a cloth. winding tunnels that had brought them here."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Give her sips of this when the coughing resumes.."Look at her! She should have been sent home days ago!" bellowed a man. The pair of you! To Regalia! Now!" He raised his hea d in the air.tha t at times he truly doubted she would make it home alive. who seemed nearly as bad off as Luxa. "Luxa!" he cried out an d gave her a shake."}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Father? So this giant of a man was Howard's dad? Gregor tried to remember what h e knew of him. "I can do it. " she said. "Fly you high and fast.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You are still here as well?" asked York in exasperation. he r hope lies in getting to the hospital in Regalia. "Can you keep her upright? "}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah." said Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar York gave them each a piercing look and then handed Gregor back the flashlight h e'd used in the cave.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I was needed." said York. He had been kind to the mice. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back so her head was resting on his shoulder.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "On my own flier." another voice rasped out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor scrambled onto Ares's back before anyone could say he couldn't go.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You are no help like that."}{\par \par d \hyphpar Once.." said Luxa. Father.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Talk to her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nothing Gregor had experienced in the battle came close to filling him with the terror he experienced on the flight home.. The rat appeared and stuck his nose up to hers. "Easier for her to breathe." said Ares. and pressed the corked bottle in Gregor's hand. Ares had near ly gone insane." Luxa got out. bringing up more blood but sti ll with him. Gregor. "I have been in the ash but a few hours. the trip was excruciatingly long." said Ares. They did not need to take the secret. "He's really fast. "I need a flier with some life in it!" shouted York. Cormaci's recipe for spaghe tti sauce \uc2\u8212-. Your Highness. Luxa was so ill \uc2\u8212-. And so he began to talk to Luxa about anything and eve rything he could think of. Gregor l ooked up and saw York striding toward them.anything to keep her from drifting . Luxa began to struggle. Other than that.anything \uc2\u8212-." Ripred nudged Ares with his head. "Load them up!" he ordered. "Howard will advise you. At one point. funny things Boots had done. Gregor had launched into a nonstop monologue to distract the bat and keep his spirits up. still there. "Aurora . burning up with fever \uc2\u8212-." York placed Luxa in front of Gregor. what winter was like.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ripred. "But don't worry.. He was the governor at the Fount.barely ab le to breathe. wounded in several places. niece."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares lifted into the air and shifted his powerful wings into high gear. "You? Die? You're too mean to die." he said. Mrs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It would be best if she could remain sitting up. "As you did to me in the currents." said Gregor. and she began to cough again. and lifted Luxa in his arms as if she weighed no more than a doll. Howard. "So many wounded.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "Right here. when she became very still.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We could not make her go.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The nibblers.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar Ares fluttered to the ground." Luxa actually manage d a smile."}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Howard was being lifted onto Ares's back.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar . that would not have been allowed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Finally Mareth took charge of him. Gregor was reminded of his pre sence by an occasional cough or an order to dose Luxa with more medicine. surrounded by a team of doctors snapping order s. The mou se pups had been among the first to be air-lifted out of the Firelands.she looked better at least \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I cannot say. he was able to stay conscious."}{\par \pard \hyphpar After exacting a promise from a doctor that he would be sent updates on Luxa's c ondition. brushing aside the doctors who trie d to treat him. Another room was completely devoted to feeding the starving cre atures. While th ose in the worst state had been sent directly to the hospital. Gregor was yelling. The shell of Sandwich's hate ful turtle was open \uc2\u8212-. You do not help her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares flew directly to the dock on the river. but the hospital was becoming flooded with human and nibbler casualties and no one had time to de al with him. The nursery could hold only a fraction of them. But Gregor insiste d on getting up. the others had be en assigned to the nursery while they awaited care. The rats had gotten him good in a few places.Solovet had found the secret passageway as Greg or had predicted \uc2\u8212-. The earthquake that had altered the landscape by the mouse colony near the Fount must have affected the river flow as well. He was stitched up and rubbed down with sal ve but he pushed away the medicine that he knew would make him sleep. "They are overwhelmed in the nursery with pup s from the Firelands. "Gregor. In the bathroom in which Gregor ha d played hide-and-seek less than a day ago.}{\par \pard \hyphpar After what seemed like an interminable amount of time.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Attempts were being made to accommodate them. The surface was not churned to a white froth \uc2\u8212-. Periodically he stood at the window to his mother's hospital room \uc2\u8212-. But he could still feel her chest rising and falling." he told Luxa. "Help! Doctor! Medic! Help! Help!" Underlanders unloaded Luxa and Howard directly off of Ares and onto stretchers. or anyone. They were flying down the wild river that ran fro m the Fount past Regalia to the Waterway. that his sword was propped up against his bed. A stone door swung closed in his face. Let us see if we cannot put o urselves to use. Even before they had landed. She was whisked into some kind of emergency room. It was not until Mareth appeared and grasped him firmly by the a rms that he began to come back to himself.it was several feet lower than usual. Ordinarily. Only it didn't look as wild as Gregor remembered it. Two other r ooms that had held supplies had been fashioned into giant nests made of great pi les of blankets. particularly the one wh o had cut his calf open in the cave. Gregor began to recognize the landmarks around Regalia. panting and trembling. "Almost home. and a marathon session to clean the pups was under way. You must come with me. by letting your wounds inflame. We are only in the way here. soaking the oil and ash from his skin.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He stood in the hall. He prowled up and down the halls. But she is getting the best treatment we are able to give. "Come. frightened pups. unlike his cousi n.watching her sleep. Mareth too k care to see that the photograph of Gregor and Luxa made it into the pocket of his new shirt. trying to get news of Luxa but he aring very little. Th en he'd pace the halls again." said Mareth.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Almost there now. "You have need of medical assistance as well. She hadn' t even coughed in probably an hour." said Mareth.away. Howard lay in the darkness. Gregor tried to see what was going on but was unceremoniously shoved out of t he room. Gregor followed Mareth to the old nursery." She made no response. every tub had been filled with herba l bathwater. so the entire wing was swarmi ng with sick. It was total chaos. But as poor as Howard's condition was. They tried to place Gregor on a stretcher as well but he pushed them aside and ran after Luxa.and the babies were being carried in from the Spou t.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Somewhere behind him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Is she going to live?" asked Gregor."} {\par \pard \hyphpar Then Gregor was in one of those herbal baths again.

At the b ottom was a small stone door that gave access to the hospital. along narrow passages. Once." she reminded him. Separated from its p arents." said Gregor. carried back up the steps." said Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphpar There were scores waiting to be cleaned and more arriving all the time. with the help of some kind of shampoo and a comb. he rea lized Boots was crouching at the edge of the tub with a plate. "Only that you were summoned. another was placed in his arms. then did a d ouble take." said Boots. a key turned in a lock. of course it was a wreck. receiving a mouse pup . Through the crowds of mouse pups. glad for some way to occupy himself. Eventually they tossed him onto a stone floor and backed away with their wea pons drawn. Gregor w orked tirelessly." said Gregor. wouldn't. He chose a shortcut. "Now she says I feed you. About ten steps from the bottom. calming them with his words. and reached for another pup. He started to holler and they tied a gag around his mouth. And so it went on for several hours. "What's going on?"}{\par \pard \h yphpar "I helping Dulcie feed the babies. The baby was trembling so hard its teeth were chattering.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're okay. Boots. His skin was wrinkled and tingling from the hours in the herbal bath and his legs felt slightly numb. He didn't care. In another minut e he was up to his waist in water in one of the deep tubs." said Gregor soothingly.Dulcet rushed by them. He fought like crazy. but he couldn't. along the hallways. Horatio suddenly slammed him into the wall and before he could recover. He walked right past them without a wor d but he could hear them fall into step behind him. until Dulcet tapped him on the shoulder. They were trying to rid the ash from her body. As soon as he passed the pup on to be dried.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You and I must come to an understanding.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good work. Gregor ate. In the entrance stood Horatio and Marcus. and crossed to her. my bodyguards are back. Even tually. Boots. when a doctor came through. The pup's f ur was caked with oil and dust. Gregor got its coat to its normal gray color.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "Hey." said Dulcet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I do not know. you are being called to the hospital. he got a piece of real news. "Gregor! Mareth! Can you help in the baths?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You got it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. waving at him. "Thanks. Gregor was in a small room with a low ceiling. a little-used staircase for the last flight.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You give baths. Gregor gave the mouse pup he was holding to a nearby Underla nder and hoisted himself from the water. and Gregor was left in complete dar kness." said Gregor. and then down deep under the city of Regalia. but it was a delicate process since her lungs were damaged by days in the foul air." said Gregor. some bread. carrying a screaming pup wrapped in a towel. ill and starving. But Gregor never reached the door. You're all right.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The door swung shut. willing her to keep breathing. little guy. But his mind wa s in the hospital with Luxa." she said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Periodically Dulcet or Mareth would try to make him leave his post in the bath. Marcus had bound his hands behind his back."}{\par \pard \hyphpar On the plate were a slice of meat. as he was handing off another mouse pup." she said." he said. and it was no easy matter getting it clean. As long as he got to go see Luxa. buckling on his sword belt. "Is she all right ? Can I see her?" he asked. Then. they followed him. but he did feel a little better with something in his stomach.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Without hesitation." Her eyes darted ove r to the doorway and back again significantly. He had just gotten to his knees when Solovet stepped into the doorway.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Right. mor e to please Boots than anything. bathing the pups.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor. and a mug of tea. Then he was be ing lifted. down the steps that led to the hospital. At least she was still alive.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } . but they were too strong for h im."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm going to feed the babies more.

if he disobeyed her.. it would be easy to t hink Gregor was in another place dealing with another problem. He made it to his feet an d ran blindly toward the door to his cell. But that wasn't exactly the message G regor was getting. He slumped down in the cor ner and pulled his arms inside his shirt to conserve body heat.like. There was no sound o utside of his cell. Even Boots would be too busy to miss him.he felt out of control. Who else could know? Who would come to hi s aid or even notice he was gone? Dulcet had seen Horatio and Marcus take him aw ay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor felt his way around the cell. Ares? No doubt Ares was expending e very bit of energy he had helping to airlift the nibblers out of the Firelands a nd back to Regalia. His mother was sick. Gregor scooted his foo t along the wall until he came to a corner. There was nothing to be fo und in it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What's your plan?" he imagined Ripred's voice again.. It was small. That pretty much left Vikus . he was able to saw through his bonds in a matter of minutes. Without a way to focus the bizarre feeling \uc2\u8212-. the ceiling brushed his hair. But it wasn't easy. they were silent and unresponsive. which was his most immediate concern. The door fit so tightly into the walls around it that not even the faintest shaft of light leaked around its edges.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Why had Solovet done this? Probably to punish him for running back to the Firela nds. The flashligh t York had returned to him . when he had placed the baby Bane in Ripred's care instead of killing him. He slumped against the door and tried to control himself. I t was a thick slab of stone. A job like that could take days. "Calm down!" He took deep breaths while he trie d to assess his situation. He knew no one was going to come to his r escue. He had been arrested one other time." he ordered himself. To show him that she was in charge and. For a whil e he continued to yell but eventually gave that up as well. He wedged the point of the sword into the corner of the floor and braced the hilt with his back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Calm down. the only thing damaged was his shoulder. No blanket to keep him warm. so there had to be a way. No food or water. I f he stood up straight. he was pro bably working around the clock. And Gregor felt certain Solovet hadn't told him about this. say. No place to pee. He could not keep himself from straining against the leather strap that held his wrists behind his back. but they could easily say they had escorted him to the hospital and then he' d slipped off again.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was pitch-black. about ten feet by ten feet. The r ager sensation had begun to brew in him from the moment the door had swung shut.{\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 7}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor gave a cry of fury that was muffled by his gag. Not a bench to sit on. He inched his sword belt around so t hat the weapon was behind him. The blade was very sharp. They hadn't left him with so much as a candle. with the general confusion going on in the palace. she could toss him in the dungeon anytime she wanted to. Gregor had an unsettling feeling that now no one but Solovet and a few of her soldiers knew where he was. If there were guards. public arrest and a tria l to follow. But he didn't bother. battling rat s \uc2\u8212-. because she defi nitely had her hands full in the nursery. They had not taken his sword. He could scre am now for real. If she had really been in charge she wouldn't have needed Hor atio and Marcus to abduct him secretly and spirit him down to this cell. If Dulcet even had time to think about it. too. but again. from making grow ls of frustration. where was it? Lost somewhere in the confusion of the hospital. Would he realize Gregor had been imprisoned? With the war starting.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The first thing I need to do is get my hands free!" he snapped back in his head . and by rubbing the leather strap against it. Somehow it helped him to f ocus. his dad back in New York City. Lux a and Howard were barely hanging on to life. slamming into it. Next he cut through the gag and flung it away. They were married but they didn't always confide in each other. because it was cool in t he cell and he was soaking wet from bathing the mice. Mareth usually kept an eye on him. But there had been an official. This was no good. From wanting to kill someone. .

He would take Boots for a ride on the carousel. lifeles s hole in the ground. then concealing that she had locked up Gregor was nothing. He nee ded light. he needed to know what was going on! Was Luxa alive or wasn't she? That was the cruelest thing Solovet had done to him. And then somet hing happened that changed his entire perception of the world. breathing slower and slower until she stopped breathing entirely. Stew? He found a small loaf of bread. and then. His thoughts turned to "The Prophecy of Time. He could see! Okay. heavily slathered in mustard. but wasn't the princess s upposed to be working on that? The prophecy had mostly been about how important it was to break the Code of Claw. either. His right hand lande d in a plate of something. She wasn't trying to kill him. so he went in the mug. The elation he had felt from fighting had completely dissip ated. But the instant it left his mouth. How could she do it? How could no one notice he was gone? It ha d been hours now.Take the development of the plague as a weapon. it was as if lightn ing had struck the room. and the mug. But there was more. Gregor crawled toward the sound. There was the t ray. at least to Sandwich. At least Solovet didn't plan on starving him to death. What would happen if he didn't? And what was going on with t hat Code of Claw thing? Boots had been in the nursery. No. just punish him. Maybe he would get up and buy a pretzel. That was all that had come. their claws com ing at him. curled up in a ball on the stone floor. The mug gave off a fai nt redness that suggested heat. Then he went back to his corner and curled up on the floor again. The lack of light we ighed on him. it was time f or breakfast. lying in a hospital bed where he couldn't reach her. the food on a tray. the plate. Gregor sat up and coughed again. He could not wish himself out of this dank. But he could tell with absolute certainty the proximity of the wall across from him. Gregor coughed. maybe days. Famished." to his death. It was still warm from his pee.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The darkness continued to press upon him. His clothes bare ly seemed to be drying at all. humiliate him. Why? He scooted over to the mug and wrapped his fingers around it. Gregor huddled in the corner trying to stay warm. probably. At the children's zoo. Luxa wove in a nd out of his dreams. G regor really needed to go now. Somewhere in his brain he could register their shap es on the floor. they would feed the pig that alw ays made her laugh until she hiccuped. he crouched in the dark. and break him. He woke w ith a start. but it at least stopped th e hunger pangs in his stomach. because it was sti ll dark in his cell. Didn't anyone even care where he was? Suddenly he was so upset he had to bite his lip so he didn't start screaming. He lifted the plate and licked the remaining sauce fro m its surface. Gregor and the Bane's death had been rather mi nor points compared to that. He could have eaten ten times as much. as if in silhouette. dancing in the arena.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . He didn't see how he was going to get a chance to do that in here. he was her prize weapon. he felt scared and weak. No good.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But it was no good. There were no utensils. If Solovet had hidden that from Vikus. But that person had deserted him in the dungeon. He didn't think he could stand it very much longer. It was almost as if a picture of it appeared in his he ad. He shu t his eyes tight and tried to imagine he was lying on the grass in Central Park on a warm day.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Eventually Gregor fell into a kind of stupor. Now when he saw his sword slicing through the rats' flesh. feeling it soak into his skin. his brow beaded with sweat. cut him off from the world. It was as if some other person had taken ov er his body for the duration of the battle. cramming the food in to his mouth.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He finally went to sleep. And in this state. Shocked out of his despair. to ho w he was meant to kill the Bane. not see exactly. in time to hear the door of his cell sl am shut. not fully asleep but not quite awa ke. I t was just a small cough. Basking in the sun. leaving a kid who suddenly wanted nothing so much as to wake up in his bed in New York City and find his mom telling him to hurry up.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar Hours passed. Stiff and aching. visions of the battle he had just fought began to replay in his mind. A mug of water. as hi s dreams changed to nightmares. He was hungry and exhausted. He didn't want to pee in his cell. he needed people. laughing on her bat. making him feel a little crazy.

Luxa's cousin on the royal side.He had finally gotten it. probably Horatio's or Marcus's. If he gave that woman control over him. Sheath your sword. Let Solovet win. But maybe that would come in time. He couldn't wait to tell Ripred!}{\par \pard \hyphpar After a decent workout. And when they did he would be ready. "We have need of you in the code room. Someone was going to have to open that door again to feed him. Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She will. They wouldn't be well enough."}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was Nerissa. It was even better in rager gear! Just the mild sensations he got fro m practicing with his sword heightened his echolocation ability. miserably failing. Kept him fro m breaking down and begging the guards to let him out. it is only I. He had to leave this cell as uninfluenced by her as he had entered it. he couldn't actually make out th e picture. The wall was th ere! The plate there! The door there! The tip of his blade tapped each in turn. But something was confusing him. ready to attack the guard. Who could it be? Not Luxa or his mom. counted as a fancy hairdo. thin square. In this position. he figured he would have a couple of seconds to att ack his guards and break out. He would get out of here and he would let everyone know what So lovet had done to him. Please t rust me on this. It wasn't just a fluke. "I'm okay in here. mismatched garmen ts she wore to keep warm.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He knew Nerissa was his friend. The thing that Ripred had been so bent on teaching him . how she knew he had been poised." said Nerissa. Gregor did not have to ask how she had discovered he was in the dungeon. bent under the weight of the heavy. He could hear voi ces outside. that Gregor had been so unable to learn. All those hours of clic king around in that dark cave. She could see things that no one else could. He began to consider a plan to break out of his prison. Torchlight flooded in. One was deep. hurti ng his eyes. by Nerissa's standards. She was as thin and fragile as ever. Well.what was that?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor flattened himself against the wall a few feet from the place where the do or opened. He had radar! Just like a bat! He set the few objects he had around the room and clicked and coughed at them. She had no doubt seen him here and realized he needed help. Once I have spoken to her. And he knew he couldn't d o that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Instead of brooding. Breaking the code is our priority and it does not go well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar This was the first Gregor had heard of the code room. Visions of events past. but he didn't think much of putting away his swo rd with the guards out there. The person to whom it belonged was arguing with the gua rd. present. he hadn't gone temporarily insane. They only do so now because I have explained the crisis th at faces us. had not been a waste of time. He would over power them and fight his way back to Vikus or Ripred or Ares or someone who woul d take his side. truly rather be dead than do that. He was no longer cold. But it had to be a step up from the dungeon. And you must let Horatio and Marcus bind your hands if they ar e to risk moving you.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar Nerissa stepped into the cell and steadied herself on the door frame. "Gregor." he said. and future. or he would just become her pawn in this whole awful war. Her long tresses had been braided into a loose plait t hat. he rested against the wall. only the small. From outside came a shaky voice. sword drawn. "But you must come with me to see her first.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His preoccupation with his newfound skill kept him from going nuts. trying to locate the rat. And he would really. there would be nothing left inside of him. He could "see" them all. Had Dulcet tracked him to the dungeon? O r Perdita come looking for him after they had fought side by side in the Firelan ds?}{\par \pard \hyphpar The lock turned in the key and the door swung open. he devoted himself to combining his sword work with his ech olocation. But the second was li ght and high and female. not moving. His mind was electrified by the echolocation. "Solovet wants me there?" he asked."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . His clothes were finally dry . even the photograph of Luxa he'd been carrying in his pocket. although Gregor couldn't quite catch the words. Echolocation. He would \uc2\u8212-.

" said Nerissa quietly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She has? She's alive. hung on the wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's just as well. his grin was long gone. Gregor cou ld see by the look of shock on Mareth's face that the soldier had had no idea of his situation." said Solovet with a slight shrug. From time to time. he heard wailing. obviously she's alive if she's asking for m e. The news made him so giddy he wasn't thinking straight.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Oh. What urgent need can you have for him in the code room. That would make him an instant fugitive and make it even tougher to move around freely. By the array of empty dishes around him. he remained undecided until N erissa said."}{\par \pard \hyphpar That was when Gregor slid his sword into his belt and let Horatio tie the leathe r strap around his wrists.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. "No. As they ascended from under the palace. And she wishes to see you. About a dozen b leary-eyed Underlanders were buzzing around. Groups of different colored pins were arranged her e and there. They spoke in hushed. the only ones Gregor recognized were Solovet and Mareth. He h ated being so vulnerable again. "What is the meani ng of this?" she asked. she heals. and his guards entered. "I would have had him arrested sooner but I thought it more prudent to wait until Vikus had gone to enlist the spinners. Still. Gregor. What else does our little visionary see?"}{\par \par d \hyphpar "I saw nothing but Gregor locked in a dungeon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nerissa did not give the guards time to answer.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The council room had been transformed into a kind of war center. I took it upon myself to have him released and now ask permission for his aid. Luxa was alive! She had pulled through! He found himse lf grinning from ear to ear. "We have need of Gregor in the c ode room. Anxiety showed on the faces of every one he passed. hurried voices. it took her a while to convinc e him to sheath his sword and let the guards tie his hands behind his back. Not everyone had been as lucky as Luxa." said Nerissa. making notes. but she's awake and everything?" he burst out. drinking mugs of tea. who had been bathed and bandaged. He was currently dipping his face into a pot of his favorite shrimp in cream sauce. and certainly not happiness. By the ti me he had reached the council room. "But I will be hard-p ressed to arrange it with you in the dungeon. The giant map of th e Underland that Gregor had seen once before. So lovet took one look at the newcomers and said calmly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Nerissa. as the cream sauce dripped off of his mu zzle. never mind. not fear. he followed Neris sa up through the palace. And Ripred even stopped eating for a moment.Even though he did trust her through and through. had positioned himself by the buffet. indicating people were working here around the clock. the others had cleared out. }{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred. the atmosph ere in the hallways quickly sobered him up.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Only for a couple of days. It didn't take a military genius to guess those represented troops. Then. Bes ides the rat. He remembered the Underlander bodies piling up around him at the mouth of the cave in the Firelands. Piles of scroll s were strewn across the table. the room gradually fell silent. he'd been having quite a feast. when they had planned his trip to the jungle. But if he could get out of the cell without figh ting his guards it would be better. then? I mean.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . tell me you didn't. As he wa lked in to meet her. Nerissa?" She rolled a red pin between her fingertips."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And how did you know where to find him?" asked Solovet. with the guards flanking him. I supp ose you saw him in a dream." said the rat. Platters of food covered a long table off to one side." thought Gregor. who were discussing a grouping of red-colored pins on the map. "All excuse themselves but Mareth and Ripred." In a minute. he made his face as impassive as the stone knight's. Not anger. He didn't plan to let Solovet see him sho w any emotion at all. There were a couple of bats there as well. "Luxa has been asking for you. delivering messages. seemingly impatient to ge t back to her map.

Gregor? Is this the reason you disobeyed my order?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor made no reply." said Nerissa. "C heck his pocket!" Gregor shot Mareth a look of disbelief.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What holds him is already in Regalia. For the first time she appear ed interested in the conversation.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The guards had just laid hands on him to lead him away when Mareth burst out. no medical care.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If it were so.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could not keep himself from speaking.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I will take responsibility for him." said Solovet. thinking of what he might do to Ripred if he ever w ere free." said Ripred. I cannot risk him disobeying orders yet again and running off to who knows where. "Let's alienate the warrior altogether. and stuffed a clawful of shrimp into his st upid mouth. We feel she would be of more use if Gregor were there to help mana ge her.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "His family was not enough to keep him from going before."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He is in love with Luxa?" Solovet asked with a look of amusement." said Ripred. His face burned like fire.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Luxa? What has she to do with it?" asked Solovet. She examined it closely for a moment. noticeable sniff. no bed." said Nerissa. He had blown up at Luxa for abusing Ripred and bossi ng everybody around." Ripred said nonchalantly. So rats could smell more than fear." Solovet tucked the photo back in Gregor' s shirt. think back about half a century. I would be far more amenable to letting you free. the y could smell love as well. Solovet.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "Oh. But how could he have anticipated this moment?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This has simplified my job immensely. "Is this so. your secret is .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No? Then perhaps the dungeon is the safest place for you." she said. I need you here. then laughed and held it up for Ripr ed to see. excellent." said Solovet. Really. there is no guara ntee you can hold him. there was nothing Greg or could do but watch as Solovet crossed to him and plucked the photo from his s hirt. I don't see how this is encouraging any sort of allegiance to you."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stared at the ground."} {\par \pard \hyphpar "No. He came back to battle." said Mareth."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Fine. "Do not worry. "He will not leave Regalia. captured in that one shot." said Solovet. It had ended with him feeling very confused. and little food. you will have to do without him." said Ripred. Your granddaughter. You remem ber what it's like. Solovet." said Solovet. "Return him to the dungeon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He about got himself killed in the Firelands when I just mentioned she was unwe ll. Why do you think he was in such a rush to g et back to the Firelands? Concern for me?" said Ripred. "But I shou ld like to hear it from you." said Solovet. He had been an idiot to carry it around. Solovet. Grego r remembered that argument.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well."}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "See how he protests? Oh. Ripred. as I do not be lieve Luxa will be planning any outings anytime soon. I got my first smell of it when they were having some quarrel in the Firelands."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He's had no light. he's head over heels.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "Not his family.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet glanced at Gregor's face and shook her head. gave it a little pat. That's when Ri pred had taken a deep. This was far worse tha n Ripred's betrayal. And if he outsmarted Horatio and Marcus. allow him a torch and a blanket.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What did I tell you?" said the rat. All the proof anyone needed of his feelings for Luxa. "A nd lucky for us he did. and smiled at him."It is Boots. With his hands tied behind his back. "}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He did not run off to who knows where. "Shut up. "Oh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor knew then it was all there in that photo." continued the rat.

Bu t when Ripred opened that door. what if Luxa found out? He had no idea how Luxa really felt about him. So he kept fighting un til Mareth flipped him over and pinned him to the ground." She nodded to the guards." said Mareth. which was not easy because the rager thing seemed to be with him all the time now. He forced his muscles to relax." said Ripred.safe with me.. he is free to go. who dodged his blow but still lost a few inches of whiskers on one side. many of us think it contributed to his insanity at the Garden of Hesperides. To suffer this at his own mot her's hands ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had his sword out of his belt so fast it was a blur. No human contact.and exhaled shrimp breath in his face. He was actually far more hurt by Mareth turning on him than Ripred. They had never talked about it or anything. and suddenly Ripred was blocking his way."}{\par \pard \hyphpar It didn't take long for Gregor to give up since he could barely get any air in h is lungs. The council was completely under her control. He was not the same when he came out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "After only two days.Ugh! The rat had to weigh about six hundred pounds! \uc 2\u8212-. "He was the apple of her eye. "Move. But Mareth was too s trong and even though he was mad. bubbling to the surface at any pro vocation.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And if she'd do that to Hamnet. Gregor spun on his heels an d stalked out of the door. Now someone would tell her and the idea was just so embarrassing. He was ready to find Ares and head home and \uc2\u8212--}{\par \pard \hyphpar A form brushed by him as he reached the end of the hallway."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Ripred held up his paws in mock surprise. Plus Mareth and Nerissa were looking over Ripred's shoulder with such obvious concern that it was hard not to believe they were genuinely upset by his reaction. Then Ripred climbed on top of him \uc2\u8212-. Gregor had come to think of Mareth as a friend." said Nerissa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Get off me. First of all. "Hold on. boy. But Solovet once locked Hamnet up in that very cell for a full month because he crossed her at a war council.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Either I'm getting old or you're improving a good deal. do you think she'd be more lenient on some insu bordinate Overlander?" said Ripred. "What? What?" he growled at them. Not now. it was a personal thing. "But I su ggest you don't try that again. and she doesn' t even {\i like} you!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I would have said the same as Ripred and Mareth had I been clever enough to thi . Is this where we fight to t he death? I didn't expect it so soon. No one's bus iness but his own! Second."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I was doing all right."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Vikus was fighting at the Fount. "Oh. didn't they know Solovet would just use Luxa against him? Like she did everyone he cared about? Didn't they see how it would only giv e her more power to control him? And finally. Gregor could not have attacked him with his sw ord. and swung at the rat. There was no one of power to intercede for Hamnet."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Move. Ripred!" said Gregor. "Just let us know when you're r eady to listen. He was livid at Ripred and Mareth for revealing his f eelings for Luxa to Solovet. though. and even though it came without effort. struggling to free himself. he could not turn it off at wi ll. "Unbind his hands. man!" said Gregor. "We di d not want you back in that dungeon. Gregor! You do not understand wha t service he did you!" Mareth said."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor lifted his sword to slice at the rat when a pair of strong arms caught hi s in some kind of headlock from behind. I followed him immediately. "Stop." said Mareth.. Now."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 8}}{\par \pard \hyphpar The second they cut through the strap at his wrists. "No light." said Gregor sullenly. we are sorry if we revealed anything of a private nature back there. dear.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor.

Gregor. Gregor.. The exertion of the last hour had set her to trembling violently. giving a luxurious stretch t hat nearly crushed Gregor's ribs before he got off. Temp.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just when I was getting comfortable. Above each arch was the name of the creat ure that was meant to inhabit the room: Spinner. and this was what had given Gregor the impression of a zoo. You know how. okay. Spiders disliked any loud no . that he could have returned at least to visit her. T he green spider. And w e have real need of your help. Gregor remembered how agitated he had been i n the jungle when Luxa had suggested that his self-imposed exile from Regalia ha d been excessive. Now let me up. smack in the m iddle of the octagon. A long table covered with scrolls. i t would be unbearable." Was he thinking of that cell and how Solovet would have let him rot there until he was either completely insane or so desperate he'd do anything she said? It must have been awful for Hamnet to know in his dying moments that he had no choice but to send his son. Luxa sleeps. Gnawer. Is that why he had extracted the promise from Luxa that s he would never let Hazard be trained as a soldier? Gregor had always thought tha t Hamnet had made that request because he was so opposed to war in principle. ba ck to Regalia to live. "But I'm going to the hospi tal." said Mareth.nk of it. seemed to be cringin g. a bat with creamy white fur hung upside down from a perch." said Ripred. Poor Hamnet." said Gregor. Crawler." said Nerissa. They walked in on quite a scene. Hazard. Even with his new echolocation skills. Nibbler. The one directly across from this had a carving of some sort of strange tree. You did me a big favor. The code. "Please. I'll go there first. Nerissa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All right. Every a rch was equipped with a curtain that could be easily closed. but Gregor was pretty sure it was the loudness th at was making the arachnid hunch down and contract. A light green spider re sted on a web. She would have had me leading an army again in no time. "No. but Nerissa and Ripred accompanied Grego r to the code room. and long strips of white fabric was set up beneath the tree. Know that we acted on your behalf. all were open. the room reminded Gregor of a zoo.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could feel the tension leaving his muscles for real now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth had to return to Solovet's side. narrow corridor. but. Some of the rooms were already filled with their designated guests. Still..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Although he knew this was not its purpose. what if Luxa found out what had happened? }{\par \pard \hyphpar "No one will utter a word of what was said in that room. Human." said Nerissa. singing "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" at the top of her lungs. books. He still spoke gruffly but he was not really angry anymore. yeah. He didn't want her fainting or something. to whom the song was principally directed. as he began to u nderstand his friends' motives. No w he wondered if he had also said it to keep Hazard as far out of Solovet's reac h as possible." protested Gregor. Flier. Hamnet had said. and a ro ach peered out of an archway that was only three feet off of the ground. He knew it was important. but at the moment. a heavily bandaged white mouse with black markings lay on a nest of blankets. "Let's get down to the code room. The remaining six walls had arched openings of vari ous heights that led to private rooms. "We will not speak and Solovet would not want it to be common kn owledge. On one wall was the door through which Gregor had e ntered. Solovet works. before that sister of yours drives the finest minds of the Underland compl etely nuts." said Gregor. It was shaped like an octagon. and then hurried him up a few flights of stairs to a chamber off of a long. because all of the creatures were staring fixedly at Boots."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Oh."}{\ par \pard \hyphpar Gregor thought of a month in that cell. you may be sure of that . I could never have left twice. They gave him ten minutes to run into a bathroom for a quick wash and change of clothes. Boots was somewhat off-key."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Please.}{\par \pard \hyphpar She was standing on the back of her loyal cockroach friend. so you would not be able to truly visit her.

Boots. "How you doing. I don 't think that's going to happen. I be. flipping off of his perch.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You sure are. her eyes widening in anticipation."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And you represent the rats?" Gregor asked Ripred. I'll have to do. The spinner is Reflex." Nerissa did not look at all well. more like it. So it s appearance coincides with other events in 'The Prophecy of Time. "She's supposed to be the key to bre aking this whole code wide open. The cr awler is Min." She picked up one of the strips of white fabric and showed it to Gr egor. Nerissa. but she kept going as she pressed the palm of her hand into her forehead.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "It is an unknown code that the gnawers began to use the day we freed the nibblers.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor realized he didn't know. Gregor knew sh e didn't care."}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "You do not need to worry about the lines.ises. He looked back at Nerissa and Ripred. "This is Daedalus."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am singing to make them happy!" said Boots. oth ers tilted to the right or left. "What do y ou want her to do?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "But I volunteered to help with your sister. "Show him the ropes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. and the nibbler is known as Heronian. "It's not really essential that a rat be here." said Gregor. saying. would you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Come here." said Ripred. lifting her up on his hip. She's just learning to read. "Well.. I will sing one for you!" announced Boots. what's going on?" said Gregor. "Well. and put up her arms for a hug." said Boots proudly." said Nerissa. "It took only a short time to rule out any usua l encryption methods the rats might have used. pointing at the bat. Nice to meet you." said Ripred in disgust. As long as she had an audience. "Thank you! Thank you!" although no one had applauded." said Gregor." whispered Nerissa. "Perhaps you met her in the Firelands?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. "You know what else would make them happy?"}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "What?" asked Boots. We have the messages written in lette rs as well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor looked at the lines." said Nerissa.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Days.. "You've got to get her to focus on the Code of Claw before the entire team bolts for home." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gre-go!" said Boots. Nerissa?"}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "I am not even meant to be here. everybody."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I been singing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You certainly have."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Next.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Boots! Hey. you. Boots could go on like this for h ours. but a r . We have broken many codes here in the past and now we must unravel what we believe to be the Code of Claw. Temp?" }{\par \pard \hyphpar Temp bobbed his antennae. Boots turned to each door and gave a separate bo w. It was covered with a series of lines. Some were straight up and down. "Boots is me ant to represent the humans."}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "So this is your special code room?" asked Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "These are the finest code-breakers of each species. This is a new and clever code tha t we must break. well. it was built long ago. but it probably wasn't if you'd been in th e audience for days. but times being what they are.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She has been going on like this for hours. They meant absolutely nothing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. trying not to laugh as he cro ssed to her. if you're expe cting Boots to start translating a bunch of chicken scratch into words . no one knows. but all she's done so far is terrorize the rest of us into total submission." said the bat. As she wound up the song. forgive me.' This is a sa mple of it. He thought it was funny. I wouldn't be anyone's first choice. who actua lly flinched." Nerissa confided to Gregor as she led them ove r to the long table. One was still bent from an earlier encounter with the rats." said Gregor. do they?" said Ripred. and received a round of nods bac k." said Nerissa.

The whole thing was so ridiculous. but he had to be honest . "This helping anyt hing?" he asked the group." Boots took the strip of code. if you'd like your lit tle sister to have the chance to continue her singing career. as I'm sure you know. we'd better proceed as if it is any code. He had no idea how to turn all of that gibberish into coherent words." said Nerissa. but I wouldn't set your hopes too high. neck. sometimes a few would actually form a little word like "dog" and she would announce it with delight. you need not stay. But her fingers lifted and rested on his.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Five minutes. though. Unfortunately. Her breathing was still labored and he could hear her wheeze each time tha t she inhaled. Boots simply tucked one end of the strip in the back of her pants and ran.at may help. and made for the door before anyone cou ld think he was of value." said Nerissa . She could recognize them all. But they didn't form recogniza ble words. but if we don't crack this code. "Listen. "I have to get back to the war room." said Gregor. The fabric floated out behind her. So."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor shook his head. and arms \uc2\u8212-. Perhaps when Vikus returns." said a doctor who led him into a secluded room. Boots had tired of the game and so had Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. Her face. "Oh! I know! I know!" Gr egor could feel the whole room tense in anticipation. Nothing you or I or anyone can do out on that field can compare with the pow er of knowing what is going on in our enemy's brains. He hated to disappoint everybody.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sprinted to the hospital but was not allowed to see her until he had take n another bath in some kind of antiseptic and dressed in sterile clothes and a m ask. She gave him one of her ha lf smiles and whispered. painful red. In the war room. That is Boots's role." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . but he had her read the letters on the strip of fa bric. But after they had read three strips. "But he will not break this code. He didn't take her hand because he was afraid he' d hurt her."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ripred is wanted everywhere. it wasn't.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "In the meantime. on the field. he may have some ideas. He gives much insight into how the gnawers compose their codes. to think about w hat his decision to stay was costing him. thank you. hoping for some kind of br eak-through. Luxa l ay on the bed in a gown. and do our best to b reak it. the doctor r eturned and waved him to the door. that he was alone with her at last. And I don't know what you think my three-year-old sister can do with it. And at the moment. "Look ! I have a tail! I have a tail!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor cracked up.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then Ripred's nose was in Gregor's face.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stepped outside to object but the doctor didn't give him a chance. Peri od. and in the code roo m.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sorry I wasn't more help.the areas that ha d been most exposed to the ash in the Firelands \uc2\u8212-. I imagine they will be waking Luxa soon f or a meal. He couldn't help it. his lips curled back in displeasure. The air was fill ed with a cool mist that puffed out of small tubes inserted in the walls. "You stayed. and he had to see Luxa. I have other pressing demands as well. But once she was on the ground. he was gone." said Nerissa. "Y ou may find this amusing. suddenly excited. He didn 't know what they were doing. He was to o happy that she was alive."}{\par \pard \hyphpar He gave a shrug like it was no big deal. took off her tail. and settled her on his lap. we lose the war.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor crossed to her bedside. "She may ignore the lines and only concentrate on the letters.were a hot."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Daedalus snagged a white strip with his claw and gave it to Gregor. this makes no sense. Above the li nes on this one were a stream of regular letters. but in less than one." With a flick of his tail. But her eyes found his at once. He would have been completely content to stand just like that for his five minutes. but I'll keep checki ng in. I suggest you help her focus!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor called Boots over.

come home! Now!" Lizzie got the words out. It was unlikely the cockroach or bat had harmed her. because he would never abandon Boots. While she did not seem to be bleeding."Overlander. He sat behind Lizzie. I am okay. was his other sister. The mouse. His dad had explained this to Gregor. The cockroach had disappeared into its alcove entirely and drawn the curtain shut. pum ping adrenaline through your body." said Nerissa. "Whose blood is that?" he asked Nerissa. Gregor still had a hard time trusting spiders. Even the thought of coming to the Underland had always been enough to give Lizzie an attack.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He picked her up. but there would be n o one to fight and nothing to run from. There.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. trying to soothe her and looking on the ve rge of some kind of attack herself. It's okay. when he had thought they were going to have him for dinner. shaking like a leaf."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 9}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor didn't even wait to change.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hermes. why hadn't she been brought directly to t he hospital? Or was it some other kind of emergency? It was clear that she had w orn out the patience of all of the other code-breakers. "Boots!" he cried. no. They were ambushed by gnawers and he was clawed. eithe r. What had happe . had been anythin g but reassuring. This helped you either to fight off an advers ary or run like crazy. Someon e had bled. They were doing nothing to threate n her. pulled her back into his arms. running his hand through her curls. In here! In here!" Boots tugged on his shirt to make him enter t he room. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why? What happened?" asked Gregor. He had no idea how she'd gotten here or why she'd come. she was hurting. too. facing o ff with a room full of giant scary creatures. and held her. B ut he knew this was no time to ask. Gregor guessed he must have been having a panic attack of sorts in the museum when he finally admitted what "The Prophecy of Time" had in store for him. but we cannot quiet her. His visit to their la nd. "Gre-go! Gre-go!" she called in distress. They said there is some emergency with your sister. looking for injuries. suddenly feeling scared. because Lizzie was in the middle of one of her panic attacks . When you were in danger. I know. leaving a trail all the way to the door. Had one of them done som ething? Maybe Ripred had returned and threatened her in some way and she had los t it. N obody here is going to hurt you. She was panting for air. Only Nerissa was near Lizzie. That was pretty major. She would be in a state of extreme terror." said Gregor. "Hey. Sometimes she would have an attack for no apparen t reason at all. you are being called back to the code room. It's okay." said Gregor. he just took off at a run. He flew her from the Overland. Everybody had a fight-or -flight response hardwired into them. and he could see the sheen of sw eat on her palms. If they had hurt her. She gets like this sometimes. if they had harmed one hair on her head \uc2\u8212--}{\par \pard \ hyphpar Boots flew into the hall. bat. Temp had staye d. Gregor stepped inside. But in people like Lizzie. Totally confused now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. it triggered. Now she was actually here. and spider were huddled in their rooms.}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was something real today. She is not injured."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh! Gregor! You have to \uc2\u8212-. but he had positioned himself under the table. crouched in the cen ter of the stone floor. Gregor swung Boots down and crossed to Lizzi e. Liz. Lizzie. But that green spider! Maybe it had trapped her in its web. Blood. Underlanders did n ot use the word "emergency" lightly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As he sprinted down the narrow hallway his foot slid in something. And the mouse had bee n so weak it could hardly move. What had happened? Had Boots fallen and hur t herself? Choked on something? If so. it didn't take much to set off the response. "Wha t's the matter? Are you okay? Did somebody hurt you?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.

in the hospital. If he had to put a name to it. scarred rat." Lizzie said. aren't you? " Lizzie lifted her face from the bag to take in the giant. I wanted to thank you for al l of the lovely snacks you've sent me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor opened the bag up and put it to Lizzie's face. "Sometimes it helps if you talk. "I can get th e bag. What did he know about panic attacks? Sure ly he had never had one himself. too!" Her chubby little fingers struggled with the zipper. but she got th e pack open and pulled out a folded paper lunch bag. feeling her shake." she whispered. clearly registering the lingering throw-up smel l. "My dad does math problems with her. "I am here. He just sat there with her on his lap. "Hey.a bag. he had given little thought to wha t was going on back home. Then his eyes landed on Lizzie. Dad \uc2\u8212-. And with that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's right.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Stays with \uc2\u8212-. He had no idea even where to begin. You're Lizzie. "I didn't kn ow we had company. trying to make sense of what she had said. and left. he picked her up and carried her over to t he side of the room.Grandma. His problems had been so overwhelming down here." he said. I can't take \uc2\u8212-. Lizzie?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar . I'm glad to finally get to meet you." said Ripred. and breathing into a bag gave them more carbon dioxide. Really tired. Gregor would h ave called it tenderness. It's going to be okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's okay. while they waited to see wha t would happen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? But Dad's letters keep saying everything's okay. But I bet I can guess who you are. "What's going on i n here?" His nose was twitching. patting her big sister's hand. she threw up all over the floor. She had always been there for them before. and he became still." said Greg or.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I brought \uc2\u8212-. Liz." said Boots.}{\par \pard \h yphpar Gregor held her while she heaved. Nice and slow no w. Why was he being so nice to Li zzie? He had never been nice to Boots. Boots! Can you bring m e Lizzie's backpack?" Gregor asked. You're okay. Then all of the creatures sat still. In my\uc2\u8212--backpack. Grandma in the hospital? His dad sick again? It must r eally be bad. who quickly came in. You have to \uc2\u8212-. "Breathe. " It's okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar And this was how Ripred found them as he swept into the room. running over to fetch him the backpack. They're always the high point of my day.very sick again. and the combination of that and the bag seeme d to calm her down a little. "What's eight plus seven." said Boots.come ho me!" said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can do it." he said. as if they knew any movement on their part would only increase Lizzie's anxiety. An expression came over his face that Gregor had never seen before. which twitched from side to side. cleaned up the vom it. The rat's voice became positively gentle."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor looked at the rat in surprise.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Math is good. "You're Ripred. Cormaci?" asked Gregor. too. I'll take care of it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could not make sense of Ripred's behavior." Had this stuff just hap pened or had his dad been concealing things to keep Gregor from worry? "What abo ut Mrs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred moved in slowly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar This helped. except for the tip of his tail."}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Nerissa summoned a pair of Underlanders. "Do something to distract yourself." said Ripred.ned that was so dire that Lizzie had forced herself to come to the Underland?}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "Grandma \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Lizzie finally stopped retching.care of him!" said Lizzie. Liz zie's attacks were one of the few things that upset Boots. Lizzie. Nice and slow. Gregor rubbed t he tense muscles in Lizzie's back. because people having panic attacks got too much oxygen into their systems.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Her backpack was sitting next to the pool of vomit.

"You did. squeezing her hands so tightly her knuckles were w hite. The Overlander's favorite food is either cake or bread.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "Really?" asked Ripred. and clasped her hands before her. She did seem to be calming down a bit." said Lizzie. Ripred followed them out the door calling. She no longer even n eeded the bag. "she said. Lizzie. She could solve problems way beyond the rest of the eight-year-olds. "What's twelve times eleven?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "One hundred and thirty-two. There was n othing like a puzzle to get Lizzie's attention.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's right. right. "And no need to come back u ntil I send for you!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar .}{\par \pard \hyph par "Now. and scurried excitedly over to Temp. Even Gregor was pretty impressed with that one. one hundred and ninety-seven. Ripred spoke quickly and distinctly. She had loved it. No two of us have the same favorite food. one cockroach."Fifteen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar She was staring at the floor. who ate the cheese?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. Boots?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ye-es!" said Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Two hundred and sixteen. suppose you take Boots down to the nursery and let h er feed the baby mouses. "Al l right. The things eaten were fish." thought Gregor. "Temp. cake. too." said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Harder.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Two thousand. Let's see. The Underlander's favorite food is eit her cookies or shrimp in cream sauce. We've just had lunch and we've eac h eaten our favorite food. and he had wanted to get her a present.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm ready. Oh." said Lizzie. you can see seven creatures.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Hmm. No one could figure that bunch of gibberish out. But it really had settled Lizzie down. one bat. and his tail flicked so hard it made a snapping sound. She had volunteered to stay with t heir sick dad while he'd taken Boots sledding in Central Park. "Fifty thousand.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Try thirty-seven. So the questi on is. It was Heronian. Would you like that?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay. one spider. "The bat's favorite food is either mushrooms or cake. bread. a game!" said Boots." thought Gregor. The mouse had managed to raise herself up onto her forelegs. He started to pace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie panted a moment and then blurted out. Apparently that's right. Liz ?" said Gregor. She's like a math whiz. We can do it r ight here. Now ready for the clues?" asked Ripred. thick puzzle book. Two humans . cookies. you go stand by Temp. I know a fun one." said Lizzie." said Lizzie. But h is voice was casual." said Gregor. mushrooms." said a hoarse voice from behind Ripred. and shrimp in cream sa uce. "They can be soothing. That big." said Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar said Lizzie without missing a beat. from where you're sitting.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How about thirteen?" asked Ripred. "She likes to cube things."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. but she didn't today. "Lizzie? Do you like puzzle s?" She nodded. It was true.}{\par \par d \hyphpar Ripred settled down in a comfortable position a few feet in front of Lizzie. then she met Ripred's eyes and gave a small t riumphant grin.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Wrong. which was always a sign that he was working something out. Cookies are not the cockroach's favorite food. The teachers at school never knew what to do with h er.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're going to have to do better than that. Would you like that. one m ouse. Gregor could feel her shaking start to subside."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What's six cubed?" asked Ripred." said Ripred. and one rat. He thought of the puzzle book th at he had bought her on the street that time. About thirty seconds passed. one of whom is an Overlander and one of whom is an Underlander. and the mouse gave a small nod back. Boots. cheese. that's totally unfair. The mushrooms and cookies were not eaten b y mammals. six hundred and fi fty-three. Ripred's favorite food was shrimp and cream sauce."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred looked at Heronian for confirmation. Temp pattered out from under the table and she hopped upon his back. The mou se will eat cheese.

But everything Ripred was saying was true . "Well. that wouldn't be advisable. "A ll I see is I've got to get you home. I don't see. "No.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. Min. "So." said Gregor. There was no way Lizzie could man age down here! He had to get her home. His dad was sick again and. Could it be they were just reli eved to have Boots out of their hair? No. it was just the only answer left." said Lizzie. "No! No way. "So. They seemed mor e relaxed and even a little excited. There's probably a patrol posted there as well. Gregor. And do you really want to drop off poor Lizzie under Central Park alone? How will she move the stone? How will she get home in the dark?" asked Ripred." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Just try to set one toe outside Regalia and you'll be back in that dungeon so f ast you won't know what hit you. Bu t he couldn't just send Lizzie up to Central Park by herself no matter what time of day it was. won't you?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was just a puzzle."}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor felt desperation growing inside of him." said Ripred. Enlighten him. so that means the spider and the cockroach didn't eat the cheese. or the bat." said Gregor. He would have to arrange for his dad to meet her. how would they even get word to him? There was onl y one way to get her home. "And your bat. that only l eaves the rat. See?" said Lizzie. "Why do you even want her? What's this 'princess' stuff? She didn't even get t he puzzle right! I know you had shrimp for lunch!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred rolled his eyes at Lizzie. And the two animals who ate mushrooms and cookies weren't mammals. the cockroach. The rats surely have soldiers guardin g it now. not Boo ts. And cheese wasn't one of th e favorite foods of the Overlander. It wouldn't be safe. "In the p uzzle the rat ate the cheese. "Welcome to the Underland."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred planted his big. But what exactly?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Just then Ripred strode back into the room. and now he would want to keep her here. Liz. He said the mouse didn't eat the cheese. I can't let you go now."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b PART 2: The Ticking}}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 10}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred's implication hit Gregor like a ton of bricks. that wou ldn't work. as well. So. putting Lizzie on her feet."}{\par \pard \hyphpar .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Even her explanation made his head spin. and Daedalus kept fluttering his wings. it seemed like something more had happ ened." he said. not what really happened. so."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This is true." He sat up on his haunches and then tipped his h ead forward in an elaborate bow. Ripred! You can't have her!" He stood up. Princess! That could only mean one thing: The rat thought Lizzie was the princess in the prophecy. "You see? This is the sort of thing I've been dealing with for the past year. Wait. and then pulled her by the hand t oward the door.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had no idea what time it was. Princess. The rat was actually smiling at Lizz ie. Liz. the Underlander. so. we've got to get you home."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How did you know that? Did you just guess?" asked Gregor. either in the Overland or the Underland. "Come on.Gregor could hear the other creatures murmuring around the room."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then she'll go back up through Central Park. poked her head out of h er arch. "Hermes and your sister were ambushed at the bo ttom of the shaft that leads to your home." put in Daedalus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Even if we had a spare flier at the moment. "I'm taking her myself. if they couldn't send a bat with a messa ge up the laundry room shaft. ratty self in front of the door.

"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. "Go. Surely she would pass out at any moment. you'll be Prince Gregor from now on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Let's ask her. Gregor. "Lizzie. you have been invaluable today. if you knew that all the humans in the Un derland might die if you didn't help us solve a puzzle. And instructions." said Ripred . "I have to stay. none of us stands a chance. the rat really was in good spirits if he was complimenting Nerissa! If Ripr ed was happy." said Lizzie."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My mom and my sister and my brother. Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. Cormaci can hire a n urse. "I think everyone in this room would back me up on that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I will write the note and have the money collected. Nobody's going around calling me a prince. Ripre d. And Ripred had made up his mind to keep her."Maybe she doesn't want to go. immediately distressed.. We had a princess." said Ripred. Cormaci? The rats? The small ones who l ive up there?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Exactly."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "IN THE NAMING IS THE CATCHING. Her breathing began to get short again. have you need of me?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nerissa had turned so white her veins looked purplish-black against her skin. "That is what the line f rom 'The Prophecy of Time' must mean." said Lizzie. He made a gigantic roast beef sandwich smothered in mus hrooms and sat back against the wall to try to figure out another plan while he washed it down with a quart of milk." sai d Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then I have to stay. But he knew that arguing with Lizzie at this point was no good. see to the nurse. "Would that happen?"}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "Don't tell her that!" said Gregor. The true princess must be you. would you stay or go?"}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "What?" asked Lizzie. they may live.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boy. and Gregor rea lized how hungry he was.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But I'm not going. Th e strain of Lizzie's arrival must have beeri too much for her. right?" said Ripred. "How will you get it to Mrs. you call them a . That was the catch. wrappi ng his tail around her and guiding her around the room. "I don't kn ow. Your nice Mrs. if that's what's bothering you. "She's not even the princess! Boots is the p rincess!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And if a princess has a sister.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A couple of Underlanders came in wheeling carts of steaming food.." Lizzie said unhappily. too. You may. Then again."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What about Dad?" asked Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Nerissa. "Would they die." said Ripred. "Yes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Of course she does!" said Gregor. whose stomach was also empty. ?" asked Ripred. "Now come and meet the rest of the code team. who had not yet ans wered Ripred's question. too?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They may even if you stay." said Nerissa suddenly. "I can't leave and let everybody die ." Nerissa said. took a slice of buttered bread at Ripred's insistence. Such a relief not to have to explain myself all the time."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'll send money up there. Cormaci meet Lizzie in Central P ark." said Ripred. But if you are the princess in the prophecy and you leave us. and she acknowledged th is with a nod. Gregor was not. and then rest. just have Mrs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If you can get a note up there." said Gregor. but not the one with th e right name. too?" broke in Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't know." She turned to Ripred. "I know they all must lo .}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Okay! A princess!" said Gregor." said the rat. "But that's just some junk the cockroaches made up." said Nerissa. can't she? There are people who do that. making her way to the door by supporting herself against th e wall. Gregor." said Ripred. You are the one who will help us break the Code of Claw." added Ripred. "Then.

J edidiah?" "I do not know. She'd always had great difficulty making friends." Still. Min emerged slowly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why?" asked Lizzie. And finally. like Lizzie. who could be almost crippled by shyne ss herself."}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was the perfect thing to say to Lizzie. Elizabeth. Gregor had finally taken the pair of them out to the playground and tried to get a game of kick-ball going. "What do you think. the whole family was grateful for J edidiah. On ce. Lizzie got cold and Jedidiah became fas cinated with a traffic light. Humans. an extraordin ary achievement." said Lizzie. though. and bats developed it together. she' d only ever had one friend. We can all s till use it today.}{\par \pard \hyphpar An audible sigh of relief came from around the room. rats. Then he leaned and whispered in Lizzie's ear so Grego r could barely hear it. Then Ripred took her over to the tree carved on the wall. He was just eigh t. I don't like music with words. Lizzie would have no friends at all. he'd spent. because they began to come out of their rooms. in itself. They're ve ry shy. by the way. but believe me.ok very strange to you. a telephone. A car." he said. Listening to the two of them having a conversation made Greg or feel like he was hanging out with a couple of Pilgrims. Jedidiah always insisted on calling Lizzie by her full name. Also." said Ripred. "Oh. She was an old cockroach. which was. Elizabeth. and got very upset if you called hi m Jed or something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The fact that the other code-breakers were also shy seemed to give Lizzie courag e. Good. but he could tell you how anything worked. when he'd come over for a play date. It was created years ago to make communication easier over long distances. you see. do you? "}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not much. If it weren't for him. To be honest. greeted her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor gave the tree a hard look and this is what he saw:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\*\shppict{\pict\picw312\pich515\jpegblip ffd8ffe000104a46494600010100000100010000ffdb004300080606070605080707070909080a0c 140d0c0b0b0c1912130f141d1a1f1e1d1a1c1c20242e2720 222c231c1c2837292c30313434341f27393d38323c2e333432ffdb0043010909090c0b0c180d0d18 32211c213232323232323232323232323232323232323232 323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232ffc00011080203013803 012200021101031101ffc4001f0000010501010101010100 000000000000000102030405060708090a0bffc400b5100002010303020403050504040000017d01 020300041105122131410613516107227114328191a10823 42b1c11552d1f02433627282090a161718191a25262728292a3435363738393a434445464748494a 535455565758595a636465666768696a737475767778797a 838485868788898a92939495969798999aa2a3a4a5a6a7a8a9aab2b3b4b5b6b7b8b9bac2c3c4c5c6 c7c8c9cad2d3d4d5d6d7d8d9dae1e2e3e4e5e6e7e8e9eaf1 f2f3f4f5f6f7f8f9faffc4001f010003010101010101010101000000000000010203040506070809 0a0bffc400b5110002010204040304070504040001027700 0102031104052131061241510761711322328108144291a1b1c109233352f0156272d10a162434e1 . "You'll have to be patient with some of them. spiders. They must have l iked her. He was in her grade at s chool and." said Ripred. It was hopeless. so old in fact that she made creaking noises when she walked. and scurried back to his web. cockroaches. "This is the Tree of Transmission. It was in one of our rare times of peace. and her shell had a funny grayish tint to it. a computer. like. and gave her a little bow. an hour talking about their oven. t o which Lizzie gingerly bowed back.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Because you think alike. you've got more in common with them than you do with Prince Gregor over there. way beyond the other kids academically. a weird kid named Jedidiah. Look at it a moment and tell me your impressions. Daedalus fluttered out almost at once. Reflex delicately stepped out. Heronian s truggled to her feet. but bats and humans were most comfortable with one another. shooting a nervous look back at Gregor. mice. dragged herself up to Lizzie. She gave them each a polite "hello" as they were introduced. you don't sing.

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The way we use sounds to send messages on a tele graph. With dots and dashes.} and the second tap takes you to the right to the letter O. "One scratch tak es you up to {\i A. tap ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. maybe you use these sounds .." said Lizzie.} the first tap takes you to the right to {\i D.78c7c50ba7ea73184f99a45bf913065e24b82ca377d00dc6 803d6e8af3ff00015ef88e7bc9d755ba86e2d9a25910870ceac73c703a7f8556d67c577fa7e9be2b 06f563bab4b855b4538dc10a29e077e49a00f49a2bc9752f 126b2351d62e22d7638574d9e3586cf602660cc0107bfe55ea96d2996da291c619d0311e848cd004 d451450014514500145725e3cbbd42dec74f8b4fbb7b592e 2ec46f2228242ed63dfdc0ae134df14f892d2d2f6492fe4bc924b3f3a3df18f91848c848c7b00680 3da2a348638b718d15773166c0c649ee6bcc23d435b57bab 0d2f5a935190d82dda4a402524193b720746c74f7aa1a878afc4d75a026a96aed041a95fa4116ff9 4c3180d939c1c6e2073401ec5556e2ee2b431094b6659046 bb54b7cc4e067038fa9ae6fc153eb0fa15d7f6adcc370f14acb14b1c9b8ed001c31c0e726b96b1d4 35f36767aacdabcb2add6ac2dfc83180151672b807dd40a0 0f56240049e82aa69fa8daea76bf68b493cc8b715dd82390707ad7952788f5769ac6ea4d65d6eaef 5236f369e54011a0cf03bf61cd3bc3ebaa6936365a8c5a8c e629f547b76b4206c0ad9e7a67391401eb10dd4170f2a432a3b44db1c29ced38ce0d4f5e75e08d3a 4b5f16f888cba8dc33ade12b03918656507774ed9c7e15e8 b400514514005145140087a1ac33e1ed20c3229b08b0c930239e77312df9e4fe745140116a1e19d1 af2f219e7d3e279225555392381ea01c1fc6b5dac6d4dec5 72608ccd123246f8e541c703f2a28a00cd5f0de8e9adff0068a69f0adde3ccf30023e6f5c74cfbd6 8cf636b717705c4d023cb1ee5476192011c8a28a00cfd374 1d2b4fd5269ed2c618657ce59073cfa7a7e15a10585a476d2db25bc621959cbc78e18b124e47be68 a28023d26c2d74db116d67088a15638404e07e75a1451400 514514005145140114f6f0dcc2f0cf1ac91b0c1561906aaff65582ccaeb67086561203b070dd33f9 714514015ed343d2ed7549efe0b0823ba6ce6554f9b9abdf 63b6c4abf678f6ce4f9a368f9febeb451401574cd1f4ed2d646b1b286dd9cfcc634c66a1bcf0fe91 7da9c77575a75b4d39539778c127eb451401ce683a269975 e30f105c5c58c12cd1dd26c7910315e0f4cd7763a5145002d14514005145140103c314e7f7d1a3ec 6dcbb973838a8a3d36ca2ff57690afca538403e527914514 0059695a7e9c1fec56505bf99f7fca40bbbeb8a73e9d652d9fd964b485adff00e7914057f2e94514 00fb6b3b5b284416b6f14310fe08d028fc8533ec56ab1796 2de2088de62aec180d9ce7eb9a28a00f1b49dafbe295ac570913aaea2d8222556e15b1960327f135 ece2ced4462316f16c0dbc2ec18ddebf5a28a0005adbadd9 b81046272bb4c8146e23eb53d14500145145007fffd9 }} {\line } }{\par \pard \hyphpar "It looks like a Christmas tree decorated with the alphabet. scratch." said Lizzie.."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "More like this?" asked Ripred.} and one tap is an {\i I." said Ripred. to make letters. "It's sort of like Morse code.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . "Only he didn't have a tree." was Gregor's first thought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. How do you know about Morse code?" asked Ripred." began Lizzie hesitantly." said Ripred. "One click is an {\i E." Her eyes lit up. "So what if you heard one scratch and then two tap s?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie followed the tree branches with her finger as she spoke. click..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Go on. don't worry about being wrong..} one scratch is an {\i A. nodding to the floor.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "I think ..} Right?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Exactly right. he had a chart wit h dashes and dots next to each letter..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My dad showed me. except Morse code only uses two sounds and we use three sounds. But even he could see it must be related to the code.

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It was sent as one string with no gaps to even indicate there were three separate letters." said Ripr ed. without looking up from t he code. and wanted him to learn it as well so that they could send each other messages. "Some find it to be a helpful learning tool." He went over and stu ck a whole roast chicken in his mouth. what's the problem?" said Gregor. this is like the Morse code chart. everything is in code. "Like in the cave. Those messages weren't in code. an d even used a flashlight to send it with quick flashes for the dots and longer o nes for the dashes. if you already know how this code thing works. and taps were not the code. SOS. have we.} depending on how the Code of Claw worked. "We would have broken a r egular cryptogram in minutes. studying the letters.}} {\line } }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . tock." said Lizzie. too. now I'm hungry again. An {\i A} might be a {\i B} or a {\i Q} or a {\i V." said Ripred. "But now. settling down by Lizzie." said Min. Tick. Like Gregor didn't have enough homework without h er assigning him more. Tap-tap-sc ratch. Th ey were as simple as knowing your ABC's. The only thing he could ever decipher was the SOS distress signal that they used on ships and stuff to call for help."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had been there during the Morse code lesson with his dad. tick. But there's something else involved." sa id Daedalus. The clicks. it's just another wa y of showing the Tree of Transmission. Ripred had told him to go back to sleep." said Ripred. s haking his head in frustration. Lizzie had been fasci nated by it. because they were written in code. Finally Gregor had to cut her off. SOS. tock. "Is it like a cryptogram? One letter stands for another letter?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not exactly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Right again. Of cour se. and clicking.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "But the thing is. "Oh. tapped it out with her fork at dinner. It had bee n somewhat interesting but hadn't stuck much in his brain. Like if you picked up a phone and talked into it. with t he war in full swing. "And anyone could understand what you were saying.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This isn't a code. Dot-dot-dot-dash-dash -dash-dot-dot-dot." The rat pulled one of the strips o f white fabric covered in chicken scratch off the table and waved it about. But the messages the rats were sending now made no sense."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You've heard it before. the best way to learn it is by hearing it." he said. The rats didn't believe there was any danger in sending them in plain English.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Like in the cave. tapping. She'd really drilled that one into him." said Heronian." said Lizzie. we haven't much time. found it not. "So. Lizzie would have had the m practicing five hours a day. This is just a way to send any message." said Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There is some trick to make it more complicated.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Found it not. though. Rat claws scratching. Because that's how it's transmitted.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie took the strip of fabric and sat down on the ground with it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor remembered waking up one night in a cave in the Firelands to such sounds. creaking her way over.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. Gregor. scratches.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Did you get the cookies I helped make?" asked Lizzie. Some sort of substitution. Scratch-scratch-click. She had played it on the bedroom wall. "Thi s code! The Code of Claw! The one in 'The Prophecy of Time'! And this is what we need Lizzie to help us break!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor finally understood.

No one can. "She has told me otherwise. well. I did not get the cookies you helped make. but she was discussing some letter sequence with the others." said Ripred. But if you let her stay now. I swear I' ll get all three of them home safely after the war.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "As a rager. "As one rager to another." said Gregor. I just couldn't find the right moment to serve them. Then wh at?}{\par \pard \hyphpar ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. too. "What kind of deal is that? If the war's over. I think so."No. And she's real smart but she's not strong. And I'll make sure the note has gone to your father. And Boots and my mom. Sorry. if anything. He touched Lizzie lig htly on the head with the tip of his tail. And aft er the war. His voice \uc2\u82 12-. somehow. But Solovet will know she's here by now and ha ve already given orders to prevent her from leaving while the war is on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You can't. "How do I know I can trust you?" asked Gregor." said Ripred. I can take her home myself and \uc2\u8212--" Gregor ca me to a standstill as he remembered "The Prophecy of Time. Do you rea lly believe she plans to let any of them return?" His voice had dropped to a whi sper.in fact. I will get them home. Let her stay. "Listen. she has the cockroaches on her side.." said Ripred. "Will you be all right here now?"}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "What?" said Lizzie. "I know. It made a cozy picture. "You want me t o get them now?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I do. "Not like you have to be to survive down here."}{\par \pard \hyphpar This was a frightening dimension Gregor had never even considered: his whole fam ily condemned to life down here. Unless I help you. We need her to break the c ode to save people you have come to love. boy."}{\ par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could be ordered out there at any moment." Gregor muttered more t o himself than to Ripred. "Oh. She's my sister.was strangely su bdued.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "I give you my word. she'll be worth her w eight in gold as well. too. While I still can." sighed Ripred. I brought them to the battle. I'll be back soon..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred waited until they were out of earshot before he began.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "No. Gregor knew it was not only possible. it was likely. "I've got to get Lizzie home now . what then?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then it's not a problem. pulling her attention from the letters. anyway!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Think about it. The ones that surround the farmlands. all of them together on the floor. Once Ripred had said it. No."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I love her. the h orns began to blow.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "As a rat?" asked Gregor bitterly. Freakish. but cozy. without a fight. Even Reflex had ventured out to join them." said Ripred." said Ripred. don't fight me on this."}{\par \pard \hyphpar When {\i the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar He would not be around to take anyone anywhere. If we win the war.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stopped at the doorway to double-check that Lizzie wasn't going to become hysterical when they left. the whole conversation that followed \uc2\u8212-. I'd better come with you to make sure there are no more mishaps. He might not come back." said Gregor angrily. "The rat s have reached the walls to the north. and if Lizzie is who I think she is ." said Ripred. there' s no reason to keep them here."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar As Gregor was trying to decide what a rager's word was worth. "Where are my cookies?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "In my backpack in the hospital probably. If Solovet has Boots." s aid Gregor. Solovet will call the shots."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Good. your father will come to find them and your family wi ll essentially be prisoners down here for the rest of their lives. scowling at Gregor . Ripred cocked his head and listened to the pattern.

Now go find yourself some body armor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "As you wish. There was no other way to keep funct ioning. Gregor nodded. "This?"}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "It should do nicely.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. There was nothing to do but keep moving forward and make the moments count. more specificall y." said Gregor." said Solov et. still stubbornly holding the breastplate she had chosen. "I am called Miravet. She stood by silently as Miravet made Grego r change to a black shirt and pants.}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was no choice but to trust him. but th ere was a big supply room filled with nothing but weapons and stuff. "No. It implies deadliness and strength and will give them confidence to follow him. And they had famil y and friends to worry about. Gregor felt a little less alone knowing that others were experiencing the same emotions he was. Gregor could see his resolve reflected on many o ther faces. reality came right up and slapped him in the fa ce. as if it w asn't holding up its end of the bargain somehow. Sometimes I tape a light here to help me see. He guessed the Regalians didn't need a prophecy to know there was a good chance they'd be dead at the end of it. "You fight how? With only the sword? In the right h and?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's right. Gregor the Overlander? Do we have a deal?" asked Ripred. I want him entirely in black. She returned her breastplate to the wall and chose another of black metal and some kind of shiny ebonylike shell. like now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Nothing." said Miravet." said Gregor. too." said Solovet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "To blend with his flier and give an overall impression of darkness.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar He was unsure of where he should get the body armor Ripred had mentioned. immersin g himself in the present to avoid thinking about the future or. Miravet. Less alone." said Solovet. He gritted his teeth at the prospect of seeing her again."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor didn't have to turn to know Solovet was coming up behind him. Although he had admitted to himself while he was in the museum that he would die. Gregor found himself liking her for n ot immediately jumping to do whatever Solovet suggested."What do you say. indicating his forearm. There was a war. I can assist you. he had been waging a psyc hological campaign against the idea ever since. so he thoug ht that would be a good place to start. the armory was buzzing with people suiting up for battle. but no better.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What does your left hand do?" she asked. Denying it. But sometimes." And then she was whipping that tape measure around him so fas t it was practically a blur." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That is all?" Miravet gave his forearm a slightly disapproving look.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why is that?" asked Miravet with a frown." she said. Then she dressed him in the breastplate and ." Miravet said. Then she led him to a wall cove red in breastplates hanging from hooks. "I'll see you on the field.} {\par \pard \hyphpar As he walked through the halls. "For the chest." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You have come for protection?" she asked. dodging it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. When he arrived.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Miravet was holding the breastplate up to him. Even though it was crowded. and took down a highly polished number made of silver metal and mother-of-pearl.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The gnawers will not be impressed by an impression of darkness. wondering how many other options there were. a voice came from behind him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 11}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's body felt weighed down by the conversation. an old Underlande r woman with a tape measure was at his side in a moment. "Yes. how he wasn't going to have much of one. but the humans will.

"}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar Gregor considered this. either. But he only said. there was something powerful about the blackness." When they had left the armory s he added. Gregor felt he cou ld no longer refuse to answer her without making a really big deal of it. Gre gor knew him mostly by sight. If we lose it. but it was at least twelve feet thick. very few care for me. and it explained why Miravet was not afraid to stand up to Solovet. "I do not c are for him." said Solovet. Half the people of Regalia seemed to be in the fields."}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor was not sure what she meant." he thought. he would never have done it. He has not the hardness of countenance to wear this. Almost no one does.other bits and pieces of armor. over the high wall that signaled the end of the city.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. Once Gregor had asked Ares what he thought of Ajax. to harvest or destroy all we can.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "Maybe." said Gregor gruffly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And you have no issues with her staying?" asked Solovet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Sure he did. you disobeyed a direct order. That is why discipline is so important. I couldn't look more like the bad gu y if I tried. Plenty of issues.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyph par When they reached the High Hall. "My sister is an expert in armor but not in character. working at a frantic pace." said Solovet. Then Solovet spoke up a gain. if Solovet had ordered him to secretly develop the plague as a weapon. He thought countenance had something to do w ith your face. Maybe not.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But Miravet shook her head as she examined him. If he were in a movie. and part of G regor couldn't help thinking he looked pretty cool. "Seems like I'm always following Ripred's. "You only emphasize his youth by dressing him so.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He will. But you are par t of our army now and. He did n't want to wind up back in the dungeon.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As he was being fitted for a helmet. on th e other hand .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That remains to be seen." Her sister? So lovet. in essence. And here he was going in to fight the Bane. Gregor caught sight of himself in a mirror. let us see if you can follow mine today. We do not wish to le ave them any food sources." said Solovet. Ajax. apparently having been reserved for the commanders. I myself am not convinced that it is not Boots who wil l be the key. On the other hand . "Rem ind me of her name?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was just the two of them." thought Gregor. He was a massive brute of a bat with fur the color of dried blood. Gregor. But he had made the deal with Ripred. walking down a quiet empty hall.. which was go od because he didn't need anything slowing him down. one head must give direction to the rest of the body. provid ing a sturdy base from which to launch the army. In an army. It was packed now with heavily armed humans mounted on bats. especially now that he had to keep an e ye on Lizzie. Of course. "Come with me. An area in the middle of the wall was relatively e mpty.. "Perhaps it was too harsh of me to put you in the dungeon. If not. and headed north over the farmlands." said Solovet. was waiting for them. there is chaos. "Great." They walked along in silence for a while. I hear another of yours has joined us. whose coa t was so white it almost hurt your eyes. "Not if she 's the code-breaker. dressed from head to toe in black." For instance. The names sounded kind of the same.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Speaking of sisters.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor and Solovet flew out of the palace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar " Do you think yourself capable of following orders ?" she asked. None of it was particularly heavy. He guessed you probably did need someone making a plan a nd other people who could be counted on to carry it out. as well as Boots and his mother. This one was not quite so high as the one t hat bordered the back of the city. "It would depend on the circumstances.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The farmlands ended at another wall. Solovet's bond.." So Gr egor tried to keep an open mind about Ajax. when the gnawers are so close.." he said. we lose everything. Miravet. "It is our policy. Gregor would def initely be the one the audience was rooting against.

it seemed as if the humans had a slight edge. The rats could arrange a battle and possibly weaken the humans' army without having to attack the wall s. but the rest of us do. Maybe that was why they both agreed to this kind of warfare. the humans had been at work here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We could." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He is much improved. "Oh. And apparently I lo ok like an idiot. no. and the generals who were leading them. The black suits you. B oth armies assemble and we meet on the field at an appointed time. He had flown over it several times before.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. I got to see her for about thirty secon ds. However. "Luxa's better. but they would make themselves vulnerable to do it. There was a plus and a mi nus for both sides.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You look well. in which case we counterattack immediately in self-defense. but it had always been shrouded in darkness. "But the ones left behind are stronger at least. But the doctors in the hospital say t hey mend as well. }{\par \pard \hyphpar Still. Today's arrangement did not really seem to be to either side's advantag e." said Ares. And yourself?" said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well enough. as they had in the Firelands. The humans had more than ample time to decide how to battle the rats. The first is a surprise attack. This is a cha llenge. Overhead.}{\par \pard \hyphpa . their condition. circling Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The truth was." said Ares. sits on the edge of Regalia. The rat burst out laughing when h e saw Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I was not allowed to see Aurora and Nike. Gregor had kind of liked it until Ripred started making fun of it ." said Ares. They weren't mi lling around in their usual fashion but lined up in rows." said Gregor. Solovet's arrival brought several in to report on the number of rats. But then we must live with the knowledge that an army of rats." said Solovet with a slight smile. I'm great. "I don't know. "So. Then the rat seemed to forget all abou t him and got caught up in some war council with Solovet. Except for the occasio nal twitch of a tail or ear. "Do you not appr ove of it?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He looks like he fell off of a chessboard!" said Ripred. I didn't even get a chance to check on Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A bit tired. "Do you like that getup?" he ask ed. where two groups o f soldiers would line up across a field from one another and then one side would charge." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It reminded Gregor of those movies set hundreds of years ago.When Ajax landed in the command center." said Ares." said Gregor. why aren't we fighting?" aske d Gregor. H undreds of rats had assembled on the ground outside of the wall. Then my sister Lizzie showed up and Ripred decided she's the code-breaker. humans on bats flew in a crisscrossing pattern. but the y would have to leave the security of the walls to do so." said Ripred. The second is a challenge.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They stared for a while at the ranks of rats. Gregor got a clear view of the cavern be yond the wall. Seems like i t might be smarter just to sit here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Man. "What do I care? I don't have to look at it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Whatever. Solovet slapped me in the dungeon for a few days.}{\par \pard \hyphpar In the flickering light.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Solovet is still assessing the rats to see how we should engage." said Gregor. There are two main types of battles in the Underland.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. they were perfectly still. He was a little impatient to get started." he said. and Gregor could see s ome of the nearby soldiers trying not to laugh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How's the airlift going?" Gregor asked Ares. Gregor could see that the fighting had not yet begun. suddenly feel ing guilty that his concern for Luxa had blinded him to his other friends' condi tions. which is likely to build." sai d Ares. }{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares soon arrived carrying Ripred on his back. There are still many nibblers to bring in from the Firelands. Who are you supposed to be?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I ordered his armor myself."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You doing okay?" asked Gregor. peppering the cavern walls with burning torches in preparation f or the battle.

The ceiling was not as high and the rats were positione d in close. with or without Ares. She didn't need Ma reth and Perdita to do that. It's just a cut. and Ripred ." said Gregor. but Gregor assumed h e was acting as some kind of general or something."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Dismount." said Ares. No. "Signal Perdita and Mareth. This was not as big an issue for Gregor as it was for Ar es. Then Solovet crossed to him. "She's sending me in with bodyguards. "It does not much affect my flight. He was looking forward to the battle. it can be stitched later.r Yeah. They had less room to maneuver than they 'd had in the Firelands. There was no circling ar ound and choosing targets this time. "Gregor. Hamnet had refused to act as their guide if she came. When Gregor had returned from the jungle. The bats flew in a tight formation and dove as one into the fray. we are going to position you in the second wave at the right fifth point. He gues sed this was probably a good thing. she had never been around when he wa s in battle or even in training. Gregor wanted to argue but Ares followed the command at once." said Solovet. even ranks."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The first wave of bats took off and the rats rose up to meet them. When the command was given to assume their places.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor noticed Solovet and Ripred were looking at him and consulting in low voic es. confus ing mess. as I have ne ver seen you fight. but "second wave at the ri ght fifth point" seemed to mean something to Ares. May be if she realized what a good fighter he was she would back off a little." she told a guard. Gregor couldn't help saying. and Mareth appeared from somewhere down the wal l.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Just as they were about to dive. Solovet never had seen him fight. Then he heard Solovet quietly say. since he was supposed to be proving he could follow orders. In no time.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. for a while. an Underlander flew up and ordered them back to the wall. Gregor was annoyed to find Marcus and Horatio positioned on either side of him. his life was a depressing." }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. excitement. somewhat confused. Ares flew directly to their assigned spot on the wall. Ajax. then t he thing to do would be to send him directly to the hospital. she had not gone on the sea voyage. he could show her a thing or two now. Although Solovet had been planning to join in the jungle expedition to find the cure for the plague. When he c ame back to supposedly assassinate the Bane. now that his leg was gone. Still..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Fighting was now becoming second nature to Gregor. though. If she thought Ares was hurt. And at the moment. Well. any number of rats mig ht be in striking range. The air seemed to be quivering with antici pation. Right now. "He's okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Perdita flew in from the battle. Gregor did not have the reach to protect his entire wingspan." But even the annoyance couldn' t override another emotion that was building up inside of him . The bat's wings were so long that when he would dive. His rager side kicked in and he fought wherever Ares positioned him. Gregor slid off of Ares's back. "Great.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You okay?" Gregor shouted to Ares. when they landed before Solovet. They had bare ly engaged in combat when Gregor felt Ares lifting off. the rats seemed mo re determined to take out Ares than Gregor. that wasn't a particularly calming thought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A tense silence fell over the cavern. he hadn't even had a sword. Ripred suggests this and. Solovet had been confined to quarters beca use of her role in starting the plague. The y were in the second of three rows of soldiers mounted on their bats. He was not actually fighting. Gregor had run through t wo rats that had been specifically targeting the bat's wings. At least when he fought he knew what he was doing and. But a third had ma naged to get a claw into the delicate skin near the tip and sliced a six-inch te ar into it. he could forget about the rest of it. let's go get the rat who did it. since he'd been working so cl .."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor realized this was true. Even with his sword fully extended. On his first trip to the Underland. I must follow his recommendation." h e thought. Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He had no idea where she had placed him in the ranks. "Now.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Far too reckless with his wing space." said Ripred. jumping to his bat's defense. at the end I was sort of dizzy.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Thanks. It was a first-class dagger. but that isn't usually the case." said Solovet. "When I fought the snakes in the jungle. "I do not believe two swords are the answer." said the rat." said Gregor. "This sounds like your area. There was a satisfying ring of met al on metal." admitted Gregor. "And don't be so touchy.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You two? No. "And you were able to control it?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. and vomited. Acts as if he is half his size."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "As if I don't have enough to do." said Solovet. He had completely lost control. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Take it. s leek blade." said Ripred ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Plenty of space in the Firelands. It's yours. Has he a rager spin attac k?" asked Solovet. Add a little color to your ensemble. He so favors his right hand. He was dying to try it out."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A dagger." said Ripred. reeled into the jungle vines. Solovet. I dare not risk testing him alone on the ground.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Your opinion of Ares. He could tell by the expressions on the others' faces that something unprecedented was happening.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Although Gregor did not expect a lot of praise from Solovet. When he examined the blades he saw neither had been nicked. "He must at least have it to block attacks. that's h ow we got out of there!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hmm. he wanted the one right in front of him. Then she pulled the dagger from her own belt and offered him the hilt.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's not true!" said Gregor. then.osely with Solovet in the war room. I know your time with him has been very limited." said Solovet."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.." said Ajax sourly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 12}}{\par \pard \hyphpar . He couldn't help liking Solovet just a little for giving him this weapon. maybe even as strong as his sword. This is not meant as criticism. Perd ita." said Mareth.. that dagger. Can we not double-arm him?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We can. "He is woefully unprepared for battle.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can't take that. well. He had barely been able to climb onto Ares a nd it had taken quite a while for the dizziness to pass.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I rarely battle now. Lucky tha t tear is his only injury.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "So. I would not have it grow rusty from disuse." said Ripred. "He runs mainly on nerves and is still easily distracted \uc2\u8212--"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can spin!" objected Gregor."}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "What style of dagger shall I give him?" asked Perdita.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ripred?" said Solovet. We're just trying to keep the pair of you alive.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Haven't seen it if he has. tucking the dagger in his belt on his right hip to have easy access to it. Not just because the hand guard seemed to be almost entirely composed of polished red jewels but because of the strong. "Take this. But he wanted it. At least. That h ad to be the understatement of the year. should we go back in now?" Gregor asked. as if the very idea was preposterous. her next words were a shock." Gregor's fingers closed around the hilt and he could not help hitting the dagger blade into the blade of his sword. But his left side is noticeabl y weak.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet stared hard at Gregor for a moment. If he had to hav e a dagger." said Perdita. "I am sending you both back to training. you will attend to that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Now. "You should have s een him in the Firelands."}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was a thing of beauty." Solovet said to Ajax. The feeling was short-lived.

Wouldn't know where to start. "That's crazy! You need me out there!" he burst out. "He rises to the bait so e asily. And he had all but failed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet raised her eyebrows. . "The many trips to the Firelands have worn me down.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey. he heard her give a laugh and say." said Solovet . But they had been tearing down the on e thing he thought he was any good at. He pulled a chair up next to her bed and took her hand." said Solovet. Gregor could tell just by looking at her that the fever had passed but that s he was still very tired.maybe it was because he respected Perdita so much \uc2\u8212-. out of the corner of his eye.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I must sleep. To suggest he had been on the front lin e for his own protection was outrageous. Mom.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can fight! Ask Ripred! He put me on the front line in the Firelands!" retorte d Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sorry." said Gregor. obviously meant to humiliate him." said Gregor.At first Gregor thought Solovet was joking. that's news to me." said Ares. He yanked the helmet off his head and w as about to throw it in Ripred's face when.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is hard."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But not because I expected you to astonish us with your fighting. As the bat took off for the city. he was not supposed to upset her. They gave him fresh clothes and h e put on his sword belt but left off the armor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor knew then that at least part of pulling him from the battle and criticizi ng him had been a test.but he managed to redirect the helmet so it ended up wedged under his arm." said Ares glumly. Luxa might be awake. He knew he probably should check in on his sister s. He was sent to soak in some bittersmelling medicinal bath and stitched up again. stung." he said." said Gregor. Whil e Gregor hadn't received any new wounds. I was wondering when I was going to see you again."} {\par \pard \hyphpar So Gregor was left to himself. Then he and Ares were both free to go. Gregor gave a short nod and climbed on Are s's back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I should have just shut up. So he just rested his head on the edge of her bed and didn't even try to explain. he'd popped the stitches on the cut on his calf and the area was slightly inflamed. His mom was lying down. Gregor didn't know why \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. If she said training. but her eyes were ope n. "It took me quite a wh ile to learn to. he saw Perdita give an almost imperceptible shake to her head. Besides. when they provoke you so. His rager side was still h ot."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? That is such a lie!" said Gregor. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey. as you say. "B ut don't think it was an easy job. He couldn't begin to tell her about it. But she was not the sort of person w ho kidded him. someone had to keep an eye on you. and he was still due at least four of his five-minute vi sit. she meant training. " Now who is alienating him?" To which Ripred chuckled."}{\par \pard \hyphpar They reported back to the hospital so that Ares could get his wing sewn up. slightly propped up by pillows. I think we will muddle through without a barely trained boy. He took a deep breath and crammed the anger back down inside of him. "All right. and the only person he want ed to see was his mom. And Solovet's order. Lot of stuff going on. To see if he could keep his head and take orders."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Well. He tried to control his temper. When's the training session?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You will be sent for." she said. I thought sandwiched between Perdita a nd me you might actually come out of the whole thing alive. just shut up. But suddenly he felt overwhelmed by everything." Ripred shrugged.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The doctors gave him permission to enter her room but warned him not to upset he r. but he had left the battle only minutes ago. He notice d how closely everyone was watching him and knew he had to get himself under con trol. "You've been sending me on your most dan gerous missions since I landed in this place. "We have been fighting the gnawers for centuries.

"Now you should get some sleep.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And I can't make you anymore. "They let Howard out. They will not let me do anything. Gregor. Lizzie in the code room.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Mmm."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Everybody likes pudding. pudding. but he did not have to wear the mask this time.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Of course." said Luxa. "Kn ock yourself out. too weak to sit up. I know that." she said." said Gregor. You going to tell me about it?" she asked. She ate it. pretending he was just a kid and his mom could make everything okay. letting her soothe him. her favori te now?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh." said his mom. There was a tray on her lap with brot h. what's for lunch? That looks really good.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I do not suppose it matters. She dressed me up in this totally stupid black armor and then threw m e out of battle until I learn to fight.Her hand stroked his hair and the knot of bad feelings \uc2\u8212-. yeah.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Really?" said Gregor. Maybe going back into training was no big de al. just like his sisters did at home.began to unravel. Besides. He is even tre ating people. "It makes good buildings. he wouldn't be here with Luxa now. I know a war started. To do what's right for us." he said."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa turned the dagger over in her hands. humiliation. swallowing painfully. Mom. baby. someone he didn't have to pretend w ith. All of them trapped in one way or another. "What did you do to get that? Kill Solovet?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ouch. but she was sitti ng up. No one is ever good enough for her." said Luxa. I just have to trust you now. Mom right here. "I love you. leaning against a stack of pillows. She never even allows me to hold}{\par \pard \hyphpar it. He wanted to stay there forever." said Luxa. Gregor marked for death." said Gregor. Luxa looked remarkab ly better. "What are you.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar Gregor shook his head without lifting it. she gave it to me. They made him wash his hands in di sinfectant.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You are back in training? I would not take that too personally." said Luxa grouchily. He scooped up a spoonful and held it up to her mouth. and what looked like mashed sweet potatoes." s he said. "Just tell me this. "Everybody's hanging in there. desperation \uc2\u8212-. Okay." said Gregor. if he were fighting.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That made Gregor feel a lot better."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You were sicker.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa frowned at her tray.anger. Boots caring for sick and orphaned mouse pups.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I only hear bits and pieces.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r He lifted his head." he said. She gave the back of his neck a squeeze. His dad in relapse. She was rearranging the potatoes into a tower with her fork. Her face brightened when she saw him and he could feel some of the heaviness of the day fall away. in or out. admiring it. given that only about six hours had passed since he'd seen her last." He kissed her o n the forehead and left before he broke down and told her everything."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I love you. She was still wheezing slightly as she breathed the misty air. Her eyes widened as they lit on the dagger at his belt. fear. Now t . I hate you. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. "How long d o you have to stay in the hospital?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I should be out now. He went straight to Luxa's room and badgered the nearby doctors until they agreed to let him in for another short visit.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "Okay. She does it all the time. My throat is still too sore to eat anything I actually like. I see them carrying the woun ded past my room sometimes. Gregor pulled the dagger from his belt and handed it to her." said Gregor. She would give Ripred pointers i f she thought he would not eat her.}{\par \par d \hyphpar And then he needed to talk to someone badly." said Gregor. The family doing okay?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Grandma in the hospital.

" said Luxa. I guess with my sist ers and mom down here and all. tick. "Overlander." Luxa began to laugh.. ti ck. "Mareth says your sister Li zzie plans to stay. handing him the weapon. tick.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The Tree of Transmission. tick. He knew he should proba bly try to get some sleep. Henry and I had to learn that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All twenty minutes of it. 'Help me. tick. For a while. How could he face an army of ra ts and not have the courage to say something so simple and obvious?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Suddenly he felt his hand reaching into his pocket and pulling out the photo of them dancing. too."}{\par \pard \ hyphpar Luxa choked down a couple more spoonfuls of pudding. he caught her smile. Henry's closeness to Luxa and Ares. He pla ced it on her tray. tick. Our teac her was a nibbler who was about a thousand years old. "This is the reason I don't have bodyguards." said Gregor. I am dyin g of boredom. "Look at you and me." So he did his best to come up with something else. While he dre ssed. The one that had convinced Solovet he was crazy about Luxa. "Uh . tick. tick.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Have a good nap?" asked Gregor." said Gregor. "Oh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor felt.hat I am back.. In the silence that fol lowed he could hear the precious seconds running out. He might not get another chance.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay.. and p romptly headed for the door. too afraid to see her reaction.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r But as he rounded the corner. He co uld hardly just blurt out. twirling her fork in her potatoes." said a voice. "Then one day Henry wrote. tick." said Gregor. They've got her in some room with a tree on the wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That seems like a whole other lifetime. someone roused Ares and the two of them went to the arena. you are summoned to the arena for tra ining. He'd make us send messages for hours..}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 13}}{\par \pard \hyphpar An Underlander met Gregor at the end of the hallway with his armor.. That wasn't a question he was ready to answer.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How did you get rid of them?" asked Luxa." he said. Make it official..}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Things change fast down here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. She knew they only had a matter of hours."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Gregor laughed.' and the nibbler refused to teach us anymore. Solovet will have me watched around the clock."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then someone was at the door."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I did. Who knew how much longer he'd even be alive? Anoth er day? Another week? But Gregor couldn't seem to speak. Ripred thinks she's the code-breaker.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do not forget your dagger. Henry's betrayal. It was awful. himself blush. because Solovet knows I'm in love with you now. Henry's body smashing apart on the rocks." said Ares tiredly." said Gregor. You really should eat some more. "I am surprised you do not have bodyguards. tick."}{\par \pard \hyphpar That was it. too. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Maybe we'll get some time after training. tick.} . too." said Luxa quietly." said Luxa. That was his opening to tell her how he felt. tick. tick.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar He could hear the disappointment in her voice as he stuck the dagger in his belt .}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Tick. but behind it was the discomfort he always felt whenever He nry was mentioned." said Luxa. tick. It was so hard to keep track of night and day do .

" said Hazard. "To me! To me!" The crowd opened up as a mouse ran f orward. A thick layer of straw had been strewn on the moss-covered ground. It had be come a kind of refugee camp for those who had survived the ordeal of being drive n from their homes and sentenced to death by the Bane in the Firelands. a bat flew in carrying a half dozen mouse pups and a small boy with a head of curly black hair. "She is my baby!" At her mother's voice. Will you call them out?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Of course."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor bet it was." said Hazard. They made the mice move back to give the bats some breathing spac e.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The babies. She nuzzled it quickly." said Hazard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When they flew into the arena. They must've really been shortha nded if they had given the job to a seven-year-old." said Hazard. without the help of the sun. "How did you plan to do this. There was an area set aside f or the mice to relieve themselves. "No." said a voice. Because I can speak to the babies. Stations for food. Ares stretched out his wings. wa shing.lying dead in Hades Hall. whimpering and squeaking.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor helped pass out the rest of the pups. and medical treatment were along the walls." Gregor held the squirming black mouse high above his head a nd tried to raise his voice so it filled the whole arena. still waiting to be airlifted from the Firelands \uc2\u8212-but they might be here in this mob. But there are hundreds in the nursery. Hazard?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We are starting a list. in the Regalian hospital. they found it was jam-packed with mice. but then looked plea dingly at Hazard. There were hundreds and hundreds of mouse pups in the nursery .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey. I am to bring the babies. standing on Ares's back and holding his arm s in the air. "Bu t it is a difficult task. And back up before someone gets hurt!" By this time. you've got to be really quiet . Euclidian and Root. "Newton!" But there wa s still no reply.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am the best one.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "They're sending you to do this?" Gregor asked. no one answered. Gregor. Gregor had a bad feeling about that.wn here. and call out t heir names to see if their parents are here to take them. Luxa had told him the mice they had seen gassed to death at the vol . The place reeked of disinfectant but it was n ot enough to overcome the smells of waste and sickness and too many bodies in to o small of a space. Two pairs of siblings were instantl y claimed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I believe he is from the jungle colony. But his lim e-green eyes were full of doubt. The mice settled down a little." said Gregor. six at a time. "There are two more." he called." said Hazard. pointing to a small gray-and-white-speckl ed pup. quiet! Quiet!" shouted Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares dipped his nose to the ground and the pup ran straight down his neck and bo lted between its mother's forelegs. this pup is named Scalene. Who's that?" Gregor asked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What is it? What's going on?" Gregor shouted to Hazard. "She is all alone. "Okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This is Scalene. "Hey.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "His name's Newton. handing him the pup. forming a protective barrier between the crowd and the bat carrying the mouse babies. They may well be ther e.}{\par \pard \hyphpar While they were circling around. there's Hazard. Do you have them?"}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "Not on this flier. We are trying to reunite them with their parents. Their parents could be anywhere \uc2\u8212-. squeaking mice.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The mouse nodded and led her lone baby away." Gregor lifted the shivering pup up over his head. "Anybody know who she belongs to?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was an immediate cry. When the final pup's name was called. Let's go say hello. desperate to know if their babies had survi ved. But you are loud er than I.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The bat with Hazard landed in an area by the wall. "They can tell me their names. Scalene began to wriggle to get out of Gregor's hands. a few people had run over to help them. Gregor had barely touched dow n in front of him when they were swarmed by a group of frantic.

" said the rat as he waved them in. He was rarely in such c lose proximity to the rats. Gregor held back." said Ripred. more abrupt.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Perdita clapped him on the shoulder in approval and went right into his training . "And they may still be in the Firelands. And at that moment. And while Gregor knew Ripred wouldn't try to kill them. "But you have a tendency to forget t hat dagger's in your hand and compensate with the sword. It was much easier to fight with two weapons. "At least he is able to take instruction. this would be true. They would wait there in agonized silence as long as there was any chance their children might show up. an d even Ripred had a couple of cuts where Gregor had tagged him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "I'll take him back to the nursery and start bringing the others."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And Ares. Perdita and Ajax ran them through a series of drills and then Ripre d showed up and they got some real practice."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could feel the difference in Ares's flight maneuvers. "They await you. Gregor could see that because the dagger blade was so much shorter than his sword. All right?" said Gregor. although she did show him a cou ple of basic attacks.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "So I have been telling him. At the south tunnel.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. This was just an extension of it. do it! Bam! You can break necks with those things if you use them. No one wanted to further complicate the situation.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Any of us will take him." said Gregor. I could feel myself doing it." said Hazard. I must learn to use my wings better. Ther e was a general murmur of agreement from the crowd.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I will keep working on this. By the end of the lesson. Overlander.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Ares lifted into the air.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can only give him to his parents now. "Ajax had a point.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Let's go train." said Perdita. It would be better if I had a dagger. They dove down at him pretending th ey were in actual battle. she began to launch into a spiel about how they had all been called out of battle for further training. So how do I use i t?" he asked.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Better. "You would have to be almost in physical contact with the gnawer to kill it. But you have to le ave this space open and not rush up when he lands." said a mouse near the front."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The mice did not protest.cano had been from the jungle colony." said Ajax. He remembere d how having the torch in his left hand in the jungle during his spin attack had probably made the difference between life and death. working with Ajax on minimizing his wingspan on differen t moves. listen up! Hazard's going to be bringing in more pups. when you're down and decide to open those wings. the rat had no trouble leaving a scratch or small puncture wound anytime he got through their defenses.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay. Gregor and Ares were pretty bloody. now anxious for any advantage the dagger might be abl e to give him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Gregor slid off of Ares's back next to Perdita. Excellent. Gregor knew exactly why he was going to kill the Bane. Gregor could see that none of the mice had moved. They concentrated mainly on defense positions. He felt that awful helplessness that had consumed him a s he'd watched the mice dying in the pit." someone tol d him. but Ripred kept snarling a t him to fight. At first." he said. They were sharper.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The lesson went well." said Ares.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar Ares had been overhead.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ." said Perdita. Gregor. you guys are right. Now let us try you out on your flier. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Two of the Underlanders volunteered to take over Gregor's job and assist Hazard when he returned. because Ajax grudgingly told Perdita." said Hazard. He must have done well. but Gregor cut her off.

"Wait. You've got to learn how to spot.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We should have thrown you into the dungeon months ago. "So. Come on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar After Ares took off. that's out. Finally he tripped and his feet went out from under him. That's enough for today. "I was better in the jungle." said Ripred. It's like having a whole new sense. "I mean." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Kind of." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There might not be a next time!" said Gregor." said the rat. and somehow "see" th ings around him." Ripred said. he could register detailed shapes and heat and movement. If he clicked or coughed or even spoke in a certain direction. all right. We need that intelligence rather badly. He could find Ripred with echolocation on the first few spins but then he star ted to get confused and dizzy.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So are we all. But it's time to stop!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar What a reversal this was from their old lessons." said Ares.A messenger bat arrived with an order for Ares to join the next airlift team.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He's done for now." said Gregor. He was starting to get concerned about how long it was taking. His feet felt awkward and he go t dizzy almost immediately. we'll really lose the war i f they don't break it?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If Sandwich is to be believed. Let's see your spin. because he could do that thing. it's not. "I do it with sound. figh ting off Ripred's attacks in complete darkness.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "All right.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "He's pretty tired. I haven't got it. "Will you keep working with me?" }{\par \pard \hyphpar "After you've eaten and slept. It's counterproductive.}{\par \pard \hyph par "Yes." said Gregor. Gregor began to object but the rat cut him off. that echolocation thing. when it was Gregor who was alwa ys trying to cut out and Ripred driving him on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Before he knew it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "Gregor! You've made excellent progress today. you stink now."} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh." said Gregor.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "It's weird.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can I assume by that smug look on your face that you've finally had a breakthro ugh?" asked Ripred." said the bat. The floor was ankle deep in those long white strips of fabric marked with encrypted messag . by echolocation but. "Let's start with the dizziness.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "No." said Ripred. You can rest in her room there. Let's try that spin attack now. something happened.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We'll get it next time. Except it wasn't darkness anymor e. It was hard to do without the real threat of death before him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What about training?" asked Gregor." he told Ripred." Gregor tried ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred showed him how to pick a spot somewhere and find it with his eyes each ti me he turned. "And even if the prophecy were not a factor." said Gregor."}{\ par \pard \hyphpar You could sense the frustration as soon as you entered the code room.spinning and spotting and seeing with his ears \uc2\u8212-. Let's go check up on Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can do it. In the dungeon. "Or next time might be in a cave full of rats!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're too tired. Yeah. It was too many new things \uc2\u8212-. Gregor was under the palace in their old practice space. of course. I would say yes. use me to start. Gregor tried to show Ripred his spin attack." said Gregor." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. Pick a distinctive spot on the wall and ke ep coming back to it." the rat instructed." said Gregor." Ripred told Perdita."}{\par \par d \hyphpar "I'll take him from here.for his brain to compute all at once. Maybe not." said Ripred. let's see if they've cracked that code yet.

es. The team was gathered around Lizzie as she hurriedly wrote down some letters on a strip with a bright pink marker that must have been in her backpack. "So t hen it would be {\i T} ... {\i H} ... {\i E} ... {\i Q} ...oh, no ... another {\i H.} That's not it."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The team gave a collective huff of disappointment.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So, how are we doing? Any luck with the Prime Factorial Ciphers?" asked Ripred. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "No luck," said Daedalus. "Heronian thought to try a two-letter inversion, but t hat just failed as well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is so maddening. There must be some key. Some simple key. Otherwise, the maj ority of gnawers could not keep it in their heads," said Heronian. "Something th ey could not forget."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How's our new player doing?" asked Ripred, curling his tail around Lizzie's sho ulders. For the first time, the mood lightened. "Only once, must you show her, o nly once," said Min approvingly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She thinks in unusual ways," said Daedalus, dipping his nose down to touch Lizz ie on the head.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And she does not sing," added Reflex, which made them all laugh.}{\par \pard \h yphpar But despite the praise, Lizzie did not look happy. "I haven't been much help rea lly," said Lizzie. "I haven't broken the code or helped anyone else do it, like the prophecy I read says."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You read the prophecy?" asked Gregor. He couldn't believe Lizzie was accepting the news of his death so calmly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I had Nerissa make her a copy," said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie handed it to Gregor. "Doesn't she have pretty writing?" she said.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor looked at the prophecy. The lines about his death had been rewritten to r ead:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the monster's blood is spilled} And the warrior's role fulfilled}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Very pretty," said Gregor, glad they knew enough to try to protect her. A fresh cart of food was being rolled into the room. "Okay, you'd better break before y ou're all useless. Let's clear this mess away. We'll eat. And for the next half hour no one is to utter the words, 'What if we tried ...?'" said Ripred.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor and Lizzie gathered up the lengths of white fabric and piled them into th e rat room according to Ripred's instructions so that he could make a more comfo rtable nest than the one the humans had provided. Food was spread out on the flo or, both raw and cooked, and everyone sat down to eat. Ripred, who seemed determ ined to keep the team's mind off of the code for a while, told funny stories and even had Min laughing, Gregor, who had never seen Ripred try to be likable and charming, was surprised to see he could be both. If you didn't know better, you would think Ripred had a genuine fondness for this oddball crew. But Gregor knew his main objective was getting the code broken. And if the rat thought a few la ughs would move him closer to that end, he'd be funny. He'd tell jokes. He'd sli p on a banana peel if one were handy.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor ate a huge grilled fish, seven slices of buttered bread, some greens, and most of a cake. Then five minutes later he felt hungry again and finished the c ake with a big mug of milk. It had been weeks since he'd had regular meals and h e needed to catch up. He looked over at Lizzie, who was picking at some stew. "E at up, Liz, it's good."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. It is. I am," she said, and took a small spoonful.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Now I told you everything's arranged with your father, right? He's got round-th

e clock nurses. He'll be fine," said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. I was just... I was thinking about my mom. I know it would upset her to know I was here, but I haven't seen her in months," said Lizzie. Her eyes were bright with tears. "Maybe I could just look at her when she's sleeping."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "That would do no harm," said Heronian.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And it would ease the child's mind," said Daedalus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor wasn't so sure about that. His mom's condition might only worry Lizzie mo re. And if his mom woke up and saw her third kid down here, she'd probably becom e hysterical, wear herself out, and get even sicker. Still, Lizzie hadn't seen h er in ages.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just for a minute," said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Your call," Ripred said to Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Thanks," said Gregor. The rat spent ninety-nine point nine percent of the time bossing him around. But here, when he actually could use a little advice, hey, i t was suddenly all up to Gregor. "Okay, Liz, I'll walk you down, and if she's as leep, you can go in. If you eat your stew."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie wolfed down the stew while Gregor prepared himself for what lay ahead. Hi s mom had been healthy and strong when she'd left the Underland. Now she was bed ridden, way too thin, and had scars from the plague. He was pretty sure he could count on another panic attack from his sister.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The palace was a new and, therefore, potentially frightening place to Lizzie. Sh e held tightly to Gregor's hand as he guided her down the many flights of stairs to the hospital level. It didn't help that things were so grim now, the people so stressed and sad, the air so heavy with medicines and disinfectants and the s moke from the extra torches that burned everywhere these days.}{\par \pard \hyph par Gregor had Lizzie wait at the end of the hospital corridor that led to his mom's room. He was half hoping she was awake and he could just say a quick hello and take Lizzie back upstairs. Maybe he could even try and wake her, although that d idn't seem quite fair. But when he reached his mom's room, he encountered an ent irely different problem. Eight badly wounded mice lay on mats on the floor and h is mom was nowhere to be seen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They must have moved her to a smaller room," was his first thought, and then it hit him. "Oh, no," he said. "I want to see a doctor!" he shouted, running into the hall. "I need a doctor here!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar He shot down the corridor past Lizzie, ignoring her questions, and grabbed the f irst doctor he met by the shoulders. She was a small woman with dark rings of fa tigue under her eyes. "Where is she? Where's my mother?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh, the Overlander!" said the woman.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could see alarm in her eyes. Then he realized he had pinned her up agains t the wall. But he didn't let go. {\i "Where is she?"}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor! Gregor, release her! She had no hand in it!" Howard appeared from somew here and pulled him off of the doctor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "In what?" demanded Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Solovet sent a team of guards in without warning. They had orders to take your mother to the Fount," said Howard. "There was nothing we could do."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But why? Why? I'm staying. She knows I'm staying!" said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "It can only be further insurance," said Howard. "You are but a short flight fro m your home."}{\par \pard \hyphpar A short flight? A million miles was more like it. Across the universe to the end of time and back again. Gregor didn't feel he could possibly be any farther fro m his home.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm going after her," said Gregor. "I'm getting Ares and I'm \uc2\u8212-- man!" He just remembered Ares had been sent on the airlift. "Where can I get another bat?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You cannot. You must know that," said Howard. "Gregor, the Fount may be safer f

or her at any rate. It is not under attack, the hospital not so crowded." Lizzie was tugging at his hand. "What did they do with her? Where is she?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor pulled her in for a hug. "It's okay. It's okay," he said, forcing himself to be calm for her sake. "They just moved her to another hospital."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Up to the Fount. That is my home.... Is this Lizzie?" asked Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I was \uc2\u8212-- going to \uc2\u8212-- see her," said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Here comes that panic attack," thought Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My mother lives at the Fount. She works in the hospital, as I do. I am sure she will take very good care of her," said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm going to go talk to Solovet," said Gregor. "Where is she?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "I believe she is overseeing the battlefield," said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You go back to the code room, okay, Liz?" said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't \uc2\u8212-- know the way!" said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I could take you," said Howard gently. He was the oldest of five kids. Gregor r emembered how great he was with Boots and Hazard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Please. Take her back. And I'll go see about Mom," said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hy phpar Getting to the battlefield was no easy matter. Even finding a way out of the pal ace took some doing. Usually he came and went on a bat. The lowest doors and win dows were two hundred feet in the air. The guards at the platform that lowered t o the ground flatly refused to give him a ride. Finally he found an unsuspecting young bat in High Hall who agreed to carry him to the arena for "training." Goi ng to the arena would at least get Gregor outside of the palace, but it was in t he opposite direction he needed to go. So, once the bat had flown off, he ran ba ck across the city. The streets were congested with wagons pulling food and supp lies to the palace. He dodged people and questions and kept moving past the pala ce until he reached the northernmost part of the wall that surrounded the city.} {\par \pard \hyphpar He was in luck. A door had been opened to allow the farmers to bring in the harv ested crops. At least he did not have to find some way over the wall. But he kne w the guards would recognize him \uc2\u8212-- as an Overlander and, therefore, a s the warrior \uc2\u8212-- and they'd have strict orders to keep him in the city . Rather than risk being turned back and reported, he stowed away behind some ba skets in a wagon heading back out to the fields. This would at least get him par tway to the battlefield.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As the wagon rolled away from the city, he worked out what he would say to Solov et. He would tell her, in no uncertain terms, that either she would bring his mo ther back or he would not fight for her. Period. He knew he could end up in the dungeon. But eventually she would need him to fight the Bane. And she'd want him better trained and willing to follow orders. Wouldn't she? Or would she just se e the whole thing. as another challenge to her authority and make an example of him? Maybe he'd get better results if he approached it from another angle and to ld her Lizzie couldn't work without her mom nearby.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The wagon came to a stop several miles from the city. The fields were well lit w ith a system of gaslights, so he still had to take care not to be seen. Gregor s lipped out the back and found himself waist deep in some kind of wheatlike plant s. He ducked down and continued to move through the field until it simply ran ou t. The Underlanders were harvesting their way toward the city. He had reached th e end of the crops and nothing but stubble lay between him and the wall from whi ch the war was being waged. He decided to run for it. Who was going to stop him out here, anyway? A couple of farmers?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor did hear some shouts as he sprinted across the barren fields, but no one was actively pursuing him. He guessed they figured he'd be stopped by the wall a nd, since he didn't have a flier, pretty much stuck there. That was okay. If he

"It's one of those killer plants! Like in the jungle!" he thought. They had large bodies covered with dark. prob ably to report his presence.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For the first time he got a good look at the creatures coming out of the ground. He'd been chasing down a ball that had landed under an old armchair. "I think I met a friend of y ours back home. but when his hands hit the ground he could see the thin layer of earth cracking beneath him and the rock floor giving way under that. the animals seemed somehow familiar.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For a second. But this was no rat paw. Gregor's dad had been teaching him how to play Ping-P ong in the basement. Trapped in the window well where it must have fallen. He did see a bat fly over him. bu t otherwise it was remarkably like the creatures surrounding Gregor now. Even the Bane couldn't grow cl aws a yard long. and when he'd stood up. He caught just a glimpse of a bizarre. Could it be that no one knew they existed down here ? That they'd been living far deeper in the earth than the rest of the Underland ers and had only just surfaced? He wanted to communicate with them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Strange as they were. descended. as the paw. A star-nosed mole. Surely he would have heard of them when the plague was running rampant because they were mammals \uc2\u8212-. The fleshy tentacles br ushing over his lips and eyes made his skin crawl. Unhappily crawling along the gravel. and for a moment he was distracted watching it. but they jus .}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 14}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor jerked his arm back and instinctively rolled away from the claw. pin k flower about the size of a manhole cover before it was on his face. He had loved the mole."}{\par \pard \hyphpar But what were moles doing in the Underland? No one had ever mentioned them to hi m before. how those front feet were amazing at digging and.they would have been affected along with the rest of the warmbloods. the area befo re him erupted in a fountain of dirt. His family was down at th e family farm in Virginia. Of course you could measure its weight in ounces instead of hundreds of pounds. Each had four paws equipped with five killer claw s. check it out. "It's another earthquake!" he thought. He was not under attack.made it to the wall he'd make it to Solovet. bristly fur and long. when the earth at his feet burst open and a mass ive paw shot into the air. The back paws were noticeably smaller and weaker looking than the front ones. So what was it?}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Gregor twisted over onto his feet. powerful tails. although he was pretty sure th ey came from the rodent family. and set it free. though. about to spring up. They definitely weren't plants. so they had watched it for a while. it crossed Gregor's mind that the thing was attached to the Bane. But Gregor had been left with a warm feeling about the funny little creature. gently scooped it out. Coming out of the place where one would expect a nose was a large rosecolored blossom rimmed with waving tentacles.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But as the three-foot claw broke through the field and slammed within inches of his arm. hoping to make a run for it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Wow. e ven though it couldn't see well. there it was. He thought he had just caught his foot on some stubble. he knew this was no earthquake. that bizarre nose was so sensitive to touch it could basically feel what something was.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It had been a warm summer day when he was about seven. He yanked his legs in and scuttled backward like a cr ab. "Eugh!" he cried as he jumped up and stumbled back. But why? And then Gre gor remembered. That the white rat had grown so disproportionately large that it now had these d eadly. His hands gripped the hilts of his weapons. and gave a laugh." said Gregor. He was o n his back. They had finally gotten a shovel from t he shed. His dad had explained how it usually stayed underground. Or rats. won dering if guards would be sent to carry him back. but he stoppe d just before he drew them. either. leaving a deep furro w in the ground. shovel-like paws.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That's when he tripped. with its five ivory-white claws.

"Go on now! Shoo! Go on back to wherever you came f rom!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had the moles' attention now. There was his skin for one thing. He didn't want to k ill them. and his smell for ano ther." This seeme d to be one of those times. It was h ard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar While they didn't leave. Gregor didn't know what had caused the moles to atta ck. Then he remembered that to reach the field the moles had had to dig through solid rock. but it was still too new to depend on. He made every effort to keep them at bay without wounding them. "Listen. though. They seemed to be trying to figure him out. Immediately he was en circled and had to fend off swipes from those fearsome claws from four sides. he met with solid resistance. Gregor had the feeling that they did understand at least part of what he was s aying. almost of me tal on metal.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor opened his hands and held them out to the moles.he had been trying to protect them! \uc2\u821 2-." He attempted to push the nearest one towar d a hole. He knew he had to do somethi ng fast.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Vikus's words from the prophecy room ran through his head. It didn't matter if they were harmless or if they had dug into this field by accident.but it didn't look like he was going to have any choice. burned its image into his b rain. "Get out before you get hurt! They don't wan t you here! This land belongs to the humans! The humans!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Those last words were barely out of his mouth when the moles went nuts. Had they ever even met a human? Certainly not an Overlander. So he chose a wagon in the distance. As their noses gently ca ressed him he felt a stab of concern. They won't want you here. but he was sure there was some kind of misunderstanding. she'd probably treat the m harshly. That was a big distinction down here." he thought. But he quickly learn ed that wasn't going to happen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Get out!" he shouted at the moles. You understand what I'm saying? There's a war on. Gregor spoke mor e urgently. Maybe a lot of it. They were sort of snuf fling around him. "Hey. He could block their attacks. A time to hold back your sword.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey!" he said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? What did I say?" said Gregor. but he could not cut through the cla ws. The bat made a beeline for the wall where Solovet was overseeing th e battle. whipping out his blades. Th ere was nothing to do but start spinning. They were tunneling in behind the h umans' line of defense. "What are those made of?" he actually said aloud. . If Solovet knew they were here.t seemed to make a quiet wheezing sound. you got to go. Did they know English?}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Four moles had tunneled out into the field by this point. He did not want to fight with the moles \uc2\u8212-. Gregor knew it was just a matter of minutes before soldiers would be d iving down at these poor animals. The whee zing sounds they were making became loud and angry and they began to snarl at hi m. Everybody he met knew he was not from Regalia. Th ey could move a lot faster than Gregor would have guessed. He tried to remember about using the e cholocation to spot. you moles! You've got to get out of here!" He began to ges ture to the tunnel openings. It was like trying to move a bus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The moles had transformed from mild and confused creatures into rabid beasts. because his eyes had plenty of other stuff to pay attention to. There was a clang. "These things need their nails trimmed. He just wanted them to leave. They had stopped nosing around him and had their heads directed toward him. the moles were beginning to stir in an agitated fashion . touching his sneakers and his body with their tentacles.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A scout on a bat flew overhead close enough for Gregor to see the look of shock on her face. He would have to cou nt on his eyes. "Remember that even i n war there is a time for restraint. Gregor didn't like to think how harshly. Whenever he hit one of the claws with the full p ower of his sword. But none of them were leaving. and tried to lock on it for a second each time he rotated around. man.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar Four moles times ten front claws equaled the equivalent of forty blades coming a t him.

That's when a claw caught his left si de. First there was battle. How long had it been the diggers' home before Sandwich had desce nded from the Overland and laid claim to it?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He won. The wo und on his left hip was excruciating." said Gregor. Others are out there. none to have survived. Only a few were thought to have escaped.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Diggers. "When Sandwich arrived. This was not a tactic they had any knowledge of.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The pink flowers! The waving tentacles! Those were his targets now. Keep him out of the dungeon. the land upon which Regalia is built. He caught words like Overlander.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Who?" was all Gregor could get out. he poisoned t he diggers' water supply. they must have drug ged him with that fast-acting stuff Howard said they reserved for emergency surg ery. In minutes he was back in the hospital. Sick. he could feel the injustice of i t all. And they have allied themselves with the Bane. he wanted it. he managed to clip a few tentacle s off one of those pink noses. Those four i n the field cannot be the entire population. coul dn't just stay on the defensive.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "Killers. Vikus's face floated into focus beside his bed. hospital. You.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This land. The mole gave such a wail of pain that Gregor alm ost stopped to make sure it was all right. more of a hot throb bing. His feet were mo ving in some intricate pattern of steps that he was sure he could never replicat e in a calmer moment." Vikus said. Boy. "That's why."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why?" asked Gregor.... It was not so sharp now. belonged to them many years ag o. forgot about the moves Perdi ta had taught him with the dagger. He opened his eyes groggily. but not to their faces. Then the occ asional small shiny black eye or soft underside of a lifted paw as he whirled ar ound. We had thought them all to be long dead. ripping open his shirt and cutting through his sword belt. Solovet had been right about his left side be ing vulnerable! And the moles had sensed it right away. Diggers!}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was dizzy. Then she was shouting orders in a voice so furious he could not make sense of what she was saying. It was a nice chunk of real estate. The pain gave him an ext ra rush of adrenaline and he forgot about spotting. leaving a deep gash on his left hip. his own. Then nothing ..Their claws must be made of very hard material.}{\par \pard \hyph par "They are known as diggers. But Vikus understood him.breach. But then it began to fill the air.. So he began a war. killing them. Gregor slowed to a shaky standstill in time to see the last one beheaded with a single blow from Solovet's sword.. Regalia. A bitter taste filled his mouth. driving their blades into the moles' backs and faces. He. It dropped around his feet and he lost a step kicking it free. For a guy who couldn't dance much. before he s aw it. that is why we are known as killers. Springs. splattering his face. and somewhere in his brain he knew he wasn't fighting alone anymore." said Gregor." said Vikus ." said Vikus wearily. Gregor felt better just kno wing the old man was back in Regalia. "But some must have remained in the Underland. He was the only one who might be able to s hield him from Solovet. Another claw made contact. That was the name Hazard had said the other creatur es in the Underland used for the humans. forgot about everything except staying alive." said Vikus. the moles'. living in secrecy."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He won. st retched out on an operating table. Even in his foggy state. forgot that he had actually liked the moles. The diggers would not leave."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.diggers. and when that threatened to fail. they would wear him out fast and then one of th em would slice him in half. anyway.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He spun for another minute before he realized this would not be enough. Before they had operated. "Why so many still hate . On the next round. Rivers. Relatively easy to defend. He could smell the blood. Soldiers on bats had descen ded. After that he just concentrated on blocking and hoped that his sword would hold up.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The pain in his hip woke him later. Someone hiked him up onto a bat and he cried out. he was pretty amazing.

who knew what stories the rats might be able to produce to justify their own vicious behavior ? The rats and the humans had been fighting so long."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 15}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor knew he should rally at the words. Regalia was their land. A nd yet.but with the moles. Gregor couldn't swallow it fast enough. he wanted to get back to the code room to see if they'd made any progress. But now he knew. or the very hospital room in which he lay. he should struggle to pull himself together. Gregor had felt above that somehow."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Didn't attack me. At this very moment. Not with the rats \uc2\u8212-." said Vikus. prepare to fight. "Not at first. But the oblivion provided by the drugs could last only so long.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Now we pay for it. "For it is only a matter of time before the rem aining diggers will tunnel into the palace. the eerily accurate visionary who had created this n ew world far below the surface of the earth." Not until he'd said they were o n the humans' land.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "What now?" asked Gregor. or the nu rsery.. Besides. he had fough t with the knowledge that he had been in the right. It is a shame that we have never lived down. Behind them would come an army of rats to kill everyone inside the palace. To make matters worse. When he'd begun his spin attack. to be on the wrong side of what was right. He'd been risking everythin g under the direction of a man who had set out to slaughter an entire species to get his hands on a good piece of property. He must be ready. And if Vikus's story was accurate. they gav e you the benefit of the doubt. To keep the ants from destro ying the plague cure. Gregor was encouraged to move elsewhere in the p alace if he could manage it.. And then the Bane will follow. it was in self-defense.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When a nurse came in with pain medicine. Even with hi s unique status as the warrior. The next time he awoke. But now they were all dead. the floo r of his room was covered with bandaged humans and bats on pallets. Ever since he had been in the Underland. was first and foremost a butcher. to stop the snakes in the jungle from killing himself and his friends.he s till felt that after what he had witnessed in the Firelands he was right to try to protect the mice \uc2\u8212-." said Vikus." Gregor said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not good. The huma ns were invaders who had not even won in a fair fight. but an entirely new ob stacle immobilized Gregor. It was a terrible feeling . the founder of Regalia. How they lived and died by them. He could tell by ." said Vikus.and fear us.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They must have realized you are not one of us.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is horrendous.. They had given him a chance to at least say where he stood. He was glad to get out of the hospital. until he had killed the moles. a few hours ago he hadn't known who the y were or what had happened to them. Why the diggers still want us dead."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor closed his eyes and let the information swim around inside him. they all still struggled to understand those fancy words he had carved i n the prophecy room. And he had stood with the humans. the moles were the ones who had been in the right. But he didn't feel right about what had just happened with the moles. Despite his wound. The prophecies were held i n such reverence that Gregor had never even thought to question whether their au thor had been a good or bad person. So Sandwi ch. th e moles hadn't attacked Gregor at first. So why wasn't he even trying to move?}{\par \pard \hyphpar He could blame the drug or the wound or sheer exhaustion. to free the mice from the rats. where the m oaning and blood were more than he could presently handle. And Gregor carried his sword." Gregor said. It was the ache in his heart that he most wanted to block out. "At least. Okay. the moles could be tunneling into the arena where the mouse refugees were recovering. the list of atrocities on b oth sides was appalling. Of course.

you! Hi. He sat down on the floor with the others and ate about a gallon of b eef stew. By bits of conversation he heard as he limped along. Her violet eyes were tired but clear. that gorged itself and then didn't eat for a few days. hopefully. like a lion or something . she seemed to b reathe normally. Lizzie would certainly be there and. The people who lived in Regalia had all been ordered into the palace for their own protection. He was grat eful now that his mother had been moved to the Fount. "Ripred has made that very c lear. he found out that the rats had fought their way into the fields through the tunnels the diggers made." said Boots. if you guys have got room for one more. He had a p . The war had not been co nducive to the three-meals-a-day schedule he'd been raised on. She was just one less fami ly member he needed to get out of Regalia.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was the first time he had seen her since he'd given her the picture. you!" said Boots. Then he tucked his sist ers in together.}{\par \pard \hy phpar Aurora and Nike had moved into the code room as well and were sharing the bat qu arters with Daedalus. you. He and his sisters brushed their teeth. It also had a clos et with a toilet and a basin with a faucet that provided cool water. Whole families were camped out wherever they could find a spot. he'd felt like some kind of predator.}{\par \pard \hyph par Ares straggled in at some point. Every niche of the palace seemed packed with people.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "To bed!" said Ripred. too?" Gregor asked. but all he felt was glad to be near her. But once he was up. There was an apprehensive quality he h ad never heard before in her voice.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "We will talk tomorrow. gripping his wri st tightly as if she was afraid he'd vanish on the spot. They were at the very walls of the city now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then Ripred came in and ordered everyone to bed for six hours of rest. Lately." Luxa said with a wry smile. they were all going to end up dead. Ripred has been so kind as to offer Haz ard and me the use of the rat room. Not all of them were wounded soldiers. right? You're staying here now?" asked Lizzie. although they had to use their fingers. If they didn't break that code soon. Gregor made his way down the halls toward the code room.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The human room was spacious enough for two decent-sized beds. She loved to hear about herself. Boots as well. Her skin had lost that hot red tone.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His progress was slow. But now we dine. and while she coughed occasionally. he held on tighter. Are you hungry?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was. Ares bolted down a couple of fish and went directly to sleep in the bat room. She looked much better. he didn' t release her hands. but they exchanged only a few words.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I gave over my quarters to the injured. Gregor foun d himself trying to approximate the bedtime routine they had at home. ever watchful of Boots. you. He made su re Boots peed one more time so she wouldn't wet the bed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Using the walls for support. The rat p aid little attention to Gregor except to say."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa rose and reached down to help him to his feet. And Temp was there.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "We are all here with the understanding that we must stay silently in our rooms or leave when the code team is working.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're staying. Gregor's hand locked on his bat's claw in their bond gesture.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You living here.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Then Luxa appeared in the arch to the rat room. He'd tho ught he would feel uncomfortable. "We may need you on the field soon . In fact." Luxa said." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sure.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hi. bumping him in his sore hip with his nose. Lizzie and Boots ran up and threw their arms around him.the number of wounded that things had been heating up." said Luxa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When he entered the code room.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Tell a story about me. The Ba ne was even closer than Gregor had thought. he found a small crowd eating a meal on the floor .

" said Lizzie.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "Slow.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not tonight. "Too late. And he had eate n too much. and sat straight up before he remembered his hip. "I went off alone for months. All gone. Everything was so awful. You're so warm.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm glad you're here. who jumped at her own shadow. Boots. or to see the untouchable Ripred. who could protect him. Gregor." said Ripred. had been like Lizzie. The dike broke and there was a big flood.retty big repertoire of Boots stories worked up. though.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I tried to get there. Now he shifted around on his bed until he was able to see Ripred through the crack. Gregor didn't know what was strang er: to see Lizzie. No. He k new his parents loved him and were doing their best. He climbed into the second bed and shifted around to fin d the least uncomfortable position for his hip. Gregor told me. And he was more worried than sleepy. "Tonight everyone has to go straight to sleep . He glanced over to check on his sisters and saw that Lizzie's half of the bed was empty. And even if she were. I trie d to. But it takes a lot to kill me. The rat was curled up on his side on the floor. So she drowned?" asked Lizzie. At the Garden of Hesperides. snuggled up against a giant rat . deep breaths. and he looked around. Oh. Pups? He had been someone's dad. Reliving good memories required an emotional strength he lacked right now. Calm. who al ways slept alone even when other rats were available.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Me. But he couldn't bring himself t o tell some happy tale about Boots on the carousel." said Lizzie. When he had shown up in the jungle. Wife? Ripred had had a mate. Huddled in the curve of his body was Lizzie. then the rat continued. It hurt. Gregor was just about to go find he r and make her get some sleep when he heard a voice. and like a mother. One of his pups." There was a long paus e." said Ripred. But Hamnet had been one of the fe w people who Ripred didn't loathe. as if that would s top the throbbing. "Just want to sit here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And your wife? And the other pups?" asked Lizzie." he heard his mom's voice calling his name. I wanted to die." said Gregor. I feel better next to you. her voice wouldn't sound like it had in his dream. Silksharp. why hadn' t Ripred ripped his throat out? Because he knew Hamnet had not intended to break the dike? Because he had seen him trying to save the victims from the flood? Or did he simply think Hamnet had suffered enough?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So you came back." Ripred shook his head. What was she talking a bout now? How did who die? When had Ripred known someone like Lizzie before?}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "Silksharp."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's fingers dug into his blanket as he tried to incorporate what he had jus t heard into his idea of Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had shut the curtains to the human room at bedtime but left about an inch open so the torchlight from the main room could shine in. comforting his little sist er. too. Now where could she be at this hour? Probably working on that code. Boots at Halloween. But the closest thing his f amily had to a parent at the moment was Gregor. who could tell him what to do.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How did she die? The one who was like me?" Lizzie asked. What if he started crying or something? He'd scare her to death. He didn't want his si sters waking up in total darkness. Boots an d the birthday cake. But why hadn't she come to him? Why had she gone to Ripred ? "Want to try a few more math problems?" the rat asked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Lost them all." He kissed them both on the foreheads." . And he had lost all of them when Hamnet had broken that dike. how wonderful it would be to have a parent who was in charge again.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Better now?" It was Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. No chance to even say good-bye. His hand pressed on the wound." said his sister. and i n control.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know about that. He lay there for more than an h our before the sound of his sisters' breathing lulled him into a sort of doze. of course his mom wasn't here." said Gregor. who seemed to loathe almost everyone." Lizzie whispered.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. and Gregor knew Lizzie must have been having another panic attack.

Meet me at the city wall in a half hour. Lizzie's hand reached up and she stroked his e ars." When he was gone. About how Ripred had lost everyone he loved with "No chan ce to even say good-bye. it was just. Where they could talk without everyone hearing every word they said. Then he had an inspiration. You may as well see what we're up against. no t even tasting the food. Gregor wasn't sure what to do. "These pictures. all decorated for th e party.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "I think this will help Hazard." said Gregor. where they seemed to have a regular job. Too many things to make sense of. because he looked so much like me. they had both fallen asleep. That is. The museum! Maybe. Then he thought about the conversation he had overh eard the night before. He had just wanted to go some where where they could have some privacy. "And that's when?" she said softly. Gregor didn't want to waste it." Ripred whispered. just maybe.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 16}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Too much. it'd be hard to forget Frill. Gregor mostly looked at her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What did you wish to show me?" asked Luxa. I n a few minutes.. But now that they were in the museum. his mind was in such a fog he couldn't even decide what t o have for breakfast." he said. and Frill is s till clear. But where could they go? The whole palace w as overflowing with people. The thought that they had died and nothing was to come of it." said Ripred. to really talk to her. Gregor could see that Ripred's head had sunk down onto his front paws.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. "You two. They stepped over the rope and slipped into the room. Luxa looked at Gregor." said Gregor. That's when I decided it all had to change. He wanted to be al one with her. I want to show you something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Through the curtain. When Gregor a rose the next morning. His mother's image is already hard for him to recall. Gregor and Luxa were lingering in the hall when R ipred brushed by. leanin g back against the shelves. "He fears that he will forget the fa ces of those he loved. "Come on."I couldn't stand it. Too much to deal with.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred ordered the room cleared except for the code team."}{\par \pard \hyphpar He piled some coats and an old piece of canvas on the floor and they sat." said Luxa. as the image of the striking .}{\par \pard \hyp hpar Once inside. Ares headed off to check if he was still needed for the airlift.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He hadn't really had anything in mind to show her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie wrapped her arms around Ripred's neck and pressed her head against his.. His eyes were closed. Laughter at a photo of Boots in her princess costume feeding Temp a bit e of cake. that seemed like an embarrassing thing to say. Not only was the museum restricted but the entire hallway to it had been cord oned off. He thinks he can remember Hamnet. it had been put off-limits. They had to go single file for most of it\uc2\u8212--the pl ace was so packed\uc2\u8212--but they never lost hold of each other. Sorrow at the shot of Hazard with his arms wrapped tightly around Tha lia. "Why d o you suppose he gave us a half hour?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't know. Aurora and Nike went to assis t Hazard with reuniting the nibbler families."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar She looked at him quizzically but didn't object when he took her hand and led he r through the halls. "Uh. Watching the different emotions sli de over her face. Luxa looked a t the pictures." Gregor's eyes landed on the stack of photos from Hazard's birthday party. Pleasure at how festive the arena looked. Temp took Boots to the nursery." Was the half hour a gift so that Gregor and Luxa would have that chance? If it was. the little bat who had died when the volcano erupted in the Fir elands. Boots just piled things onto his plate and he ate them. "I thought you might like to see them. looking through the pictures. He was righ t.

" something happen ed." he said. Their lips parted and he could see her face registering t he feeling as well. Something to carry in his pocket until.. "Last picture. and their expressions lost their silliness. "Take some for both of you."}{\par \pard \hyphpar What happened next would probably have taken months. t hat I. it would do you no harm to be fitted a s well. Ripred would be waiting for them on the wall. She waved Gregor to his fe et and began to dress him at once. How different from Solovet." said Mirave t.." said Gregor. last picture." said Gregor. When he was dressed in his black armor." said Gregor." thought Gregor. "Luxa. So h e held the camera in front of them and they burned through the rest of the roll. and child of us will be fighting." said Gregor. but then she frowned. her temple resting against his cheek. but she reached out and pa tted Luxa's cheek. but two people who knew a war lay outside the door. laughing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do you want us to go in now?" Gregor asked. He was too busy surveying the action below him wit h Solovet. Knowing there was no future in them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But he worries he will lose Thalia. Something not unlike the rager sensation. "You keep the one of us dancing. "Better she be suited up beforehand.. woman.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not yet." They had both managed to smile. He co uldn't continue. who never seemed to show Luxa any real affection.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It will matter very little what Solovet wants if those diggers claw their way i nto the palace. until it was beyond mattering.}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was a scuffling in the hall and Miravet came in with her arms full of his armor. but warmer. We should each have one. "Last picture ever. "There ar e no others of us together." said Luxa. Ares was waiting for them." said Luxa in a low voice. I need you in the war room. "I'll take this one.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. as the image s lowly developed. For a few minutes. I have been hunting for you all over the palace. I have o rders to prepare you for battle. and it was only a brief fli ght to the wall of the city. "There you are.. "May I give this to him?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Of course. "You are not to be here now. But when Gregor said.."}{\par \pard \hyphpar She was right. but their expressions were tinged with sadness as well." said Luxa. "Maybe there's still some film in the camera." said Solovet." Miravet said firmly. if I d on't get a chance to see you again like this ." said Luxa. "So do I. the world outside the museum seemed to go away.well." When the war ended. Not two carefree kids whose next big decision would be whether to get ice cream or s ee a movie. my dear. waiting to tear them apart. if the war had not sped things up and given them a s ense that whatever living they were to do must be done now or not at all." said the old woman.. This is who they really were.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. that's what he wanted her to remember. But stay close at hand. He had given her the photo of them dancing and now wished he had another copy."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r . She caught sight of Lux a. it's just you should know . it w as a matter of how painful they were." It wasn't just a matter of being afraid to say the words anymore."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa went through the photos. Gregor. "Luxa. There was. but Ripre d didn't make an issue of it. Every man. trav eled through his body. even years to work up to if time hadn't been so short. A nd since it was an instant camera. selecting a stack. they could have the pictures right away. that one time they h ad been that happy.. maki ng faces. They moved closer together.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Their faces were so close together that he barely had to turn his head when they kissed. "Okay.giant lizard came clearly to his mind. I must go to the wall first.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I think our half hour must be nearly run out."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Gregor suspected they were a little late..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then you come see me. and they wer e just two twelve-year-olds goofing around like they were in a photo booth."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Solovet doesn't want her to fight. Gregor and Luxa made th eir way to the High Hall. more tingly.

black iron and had arched metal handles like baskets. it was time to pour. " said Solovet. The surface was covered in big slabs of polished stone. bringing him back to attention.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Off they go.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All right.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then Gregor remembered the children's song that had really been a gruesome proph ecy." said Luxa. Horrible s .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ripred was wrong and he sees that now. but betwe en the slabs was a network of thin seams. We both think your presence would be valuable.}{\par \pard \hy phpar Ripred's tail jabbed him in the side. and he seemed unable to tear his eyes from her retreating form. The rat fell to the ground. but t his didn't satisfy Ripred.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Father. releasing gallons of boiling oil onto the rats below. They had discovered its true nature only a few weeks ago in the Firelands.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar The cauldrons must have been ready to go at a moment's notice. But some were attemptin g to climb it. then. the more agile rats were able to get a foothold. "Now that she has discovered that route. "Solovet p ointed out that she is rather a distraction to a certain member of our army.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. tippe d them forward."Ripred ordered me out. The rats were the "guests" at the door. Using these. N ow everyone knew better. sister. It had foretold the rats' attempt to completely wipe out the mice." said Luxa." As if to prove his point." said Ares grimly. And so." he said. it is time." the rat said. She {\i was} a distraction. as Ares said. they had never come within twenty yards of the comma nd center. They were made of thick.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I would prefer to stay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Time to pour. He struggled t o focus on the scene before him. brother. mother. It got a few yards higher before a soldier took it out. having climbed its last wall. It was similar to the one a few days ago. They were alrea dy being sliced open with swords.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Some will slice and some will pour. Vikus is about to begin negotiations for an alliance with the spinners and the crawlers. in that th e rats seemed to be positioned in some sort of formation on the field below. then. "And who needs that?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor didn't say anything. Bats flew them up onto the wall." said Solovet as she gave a signal. a second rat scurried directly up the wall using the same path as the first. She gave Gregor one last look as the bat flew off. Now they were fighting right up to the base of the city wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Secretly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred's head hung over the side of the wall as he watched one particularly game rat make it about half-way up before a human on a bat swept up and ran it throu gh with a sword. Ajax will take you. he was glad that they'd sent her back. It was about thirty feet tall. But in that earlier encounter. And then it h ad this stanza:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i now the guests are at our door}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Greet them as we have before." insisted Luxa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Time for what?" Gregor asked Ares. wearing protective gloves and goggles.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The battle was in progress. they will al l know it can be used.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar For centuries the Underlanders had thought the words were just harmless nonsense and somehow referred to a tea party where cake was sliced and tea was poured. too high for a rat to leap onto. and teams of humans. Even now he was wondering what she was doing. I do not know}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i If we will see another.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But did we not decide that sparing his life was the actual fulfillment of the p rophecy? That you had made the right choice?" asked Ares." thought Gregor. Gregor placed himself back in the maze. pouring boiling oil on your enemy and setting them on fire fell into that category. leaving a half-dozen scalded rats writhing at the base of the wall." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar There were audible gasps even from the veterans on the wall. Their coats were already soaked in oil. no t a cold and calculated strategy. Of course. Gregor couldn't help thinking about h ow he had been supposed to kill the Bane when he had first discovered him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The prophecy said he would be evil. If Gregor had done it. The Bane had been completely innoce . Could it be that he was the only one who found what they had just done to those rats repellent?}{\par \pard \hyphpar It turned out he wasn't. Even knowing what he knew n ow. And for Gregor. he could not have cut the baby's throat. It had h ad the desired effect. perhaps in a nearby tunnel. Gregor had the feeling they all viewed the a ct as unpleasant but necessary. He reared back on his haunches and gave an earsplitting roar. no matter how difficult their lot ha d been. be alive? The rats kept down? The war avoided?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It would still have been immoral. filled the air. Pandora.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor clenched his hands on his weapons' hilts to steady their shaking. That wasn't fair. But this wa s right up there. and th ey became fireballs. Looking at the monstrous creature. "I do not want the smoke to interfere with our sight lines. The rats had fallen back from the wall. Then the rats fell unconscious. w ould the mice still. Even in war there should be lines you didn't cross." said Ares in a low voice. He knew they had burned up rats in the Fir elands."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet made a sound of agreement but her attention was back on the battle.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was true." said Gregor. There was someone else present on whom the event had ha d a significant effect. but it had felt like a desperate act to save themselves and the mice. He swallowed hard to keep his breakfast down and looked around at the others.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Pearlpelt. Gregor didn't know where he had been lurking. The Reg alians had seen it a hundred times. Back in the rat's maze as he nuzzled his mother's dead body." she replied.hrieks filled the air and the entire enemy line fell back. "We would have committed the same crime the Bane did when he murdered the mouse pups in the pit. All he said was. The Bane. His iridescent white coat gleamed in the torchlight. Maybe h e was just green. Not everyone gre w up and tried to wipe out another species. Not as bad as the mice being suffocated in the pit. Someone else who was not hardened yet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred's face was expressionless. "That should discourage them for a while. Less than a year ago he had been a sweet baby rat s hivering in his arms.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just two. I think. pr obably from shock. But their bodies still lay burning at the foot of the wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Shall we torch them?" a soldier asked Solovet. The smell of burnt fur. as if he had been reading Gregor's mind. Maybe all was fai r in love and war."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Burning torches were immediately dropped on the two least fortunate rats. He thought back to the diggers and how Sandwich had poisoned them and stolen their land. or maybe that terrifying moment when m ites had eaten Howard's bat.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar It was one of the worst things Gregor had witnessed in the Underland.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ah. everyone had been a baby once. Ther e was no sense of either triumph or revulsion along the wall in general. but the torching of the rats brought him bounding into the thick of the battle. down to a skeleton in seconds. then burnt flesh. Someone else who still found war new. They ran in frantic circles then and rolled to put the flam es out. The Bane had grown several feet since Gregor had last seen him up close a few months ago. so there's my little charge at last. but it was useless. Maybe after a while this was everyday stuff. throwing off bits of pi nk and blue. He had to be eleven or twelve feet long by now and he dwarfed the largest rats on the fie ld.

He was increasingly conflicted about the prophecies as time we nt on." said the rat. The rats were jubilan t. And.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He is even larger than I was led to believe. The rats have been keeping hi m somewhat under wraps. so they must allow for extra time to move toward and away from their target." said Gregor to Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Gregor adjusted his armor. He had seen the Bane attack Ripred and come ou t on the bad end of it. Gregor opened hims elf. their opponents daunted. an artery pulsing beneath the foreleg. I will watch my wings. And there were some other things. of course. that the Bane would have a much longer reach than the rats he had previously fought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can he fight?" Ares asked.. but he was swattin g them out of the air like flies. liver."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor knew that in a matter of minutes he could be dead.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay. "So the question isn't if he can beat me." They were all staring at Gregor now. then." said Ripred. But we haven't seen much of him. unless I fought through every rat on th e field. almost directly behind the Bane. "Ready when you are. it's if he can beat you. The Bane would clearly best him in any strength move." Gregor began." Gregor said. who had had his head tilted back to watch them." Ripred said. sprang into the ai . There wasn't time to get into it now. now that Gregor knew what Sandwich had d one to the diggers.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. drool drip ping off of his fangs. A hush fell over the field as Ares flew out and made a wide circle arou nd the Bane. "M y family?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I gave you my word. The Bane. As Gregor mounted Ares's back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He can't beat you. It was. Warrior. "Warrior. he saw the Bane 's claws connect with a bat's wing and shred it like tissue paper." He could feel Ares's ch est rise and fall. calling up the image of the stone kn ight to give himself strength.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. the key spot between two ribs that led right to the heart." said Solovet. too. "Is it time to find out?" he ask ed. when Ares do ve. He leaped into a spot directly in the center of the f ield and waited.nt then. and then they launched into the air. That was a couple hundred pounds ago. maybe not. Ripred emitted a stream of advice on fighting a cr eature with a significant size advantage. Surely they've trained him since then.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "I hear he's been gorging himself on dead nibblers in the Firelands. "Ripred?" he asked. Gregor must rely on speed and agility if he was to stand a chanc e. And everyone was waiting for Gregor to fly out and t ake on the Bane. "Come and get me." said Ares. Eyes." said Gregor.. inviting his rager side to take over. The Bane's points of weakness began t o come to him in a series of quick flashes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar And as for fulfilling the prophecies. They were on their second circle." he hissed. I couldn 't get near him under the circumstances.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's what we decided.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A few particularly courageous teams were taking dives at him. The bat and i ts rider plummeted straight down and were mobbed by a pack of smaller rats.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar He could see a wide circle opening up around the Bane. And there's his sheer mass to consider. never taking his eyes off of them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then the Bane spotted him. who crouched. Feed him an d he will grow. The Ban e's arrival seemed to have thrown everyone into confusion. Remember.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Maybe.-he had to wonder what sort of guidance the man had been givi ng him all along." said Ripred. tail flicking.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Ares. ears flattened back against his head. but Gregor stopped hearing them because he was so focused on the Bane. as he took one last deep breath. but almost no one was fighting. Even the other rats scatt ered to avoid the erratic paws and tail. neck.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They say he can.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Most of the human army was airborne now.

turning to follow their path. The others vaulted onto bats and fled. Ares barely made it under him at all. she ering off three of the Bane's claws. the Ban e was becoming disoriented. His huge body knocked a dozen or so human s to the ground as he came in. The area wasn't covered by metal armor but by a thick leather panel. the Bane was fast. But rather than retreat as well. Gregor flashed back to the time he had watched the rat nearly have a nerv ous breakdown under Regalia. the Bane had first sucked. pawed at it for a full thirty seconds as if he could bring it back to life. man. The unexpected blow knocked him off of Ares and sent him headfirst toward the ground. so Ares began to direct them right into his eyes repeatedly. making it harder to find an opening. soaking Gregor as he collapsed on Ares's neck. was he ever no t coping well without it!}{\par \pard \hyphpar The Bane went completely insane. It was his comfort. When Gregor pressed on it. It made sense.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The humans shouted words of encouragement. The rat dropped onto his forelegs and whipped his tail over his head. They stayed almost entirely in the Bane's range. Fortunately. The pain was initially paralyzin g. he had difficulty locating hi s two lower ribs. He began to track them now. the Bane was taking a moment to recover from his last wound. And. leaving just a two-f oot stump behind. the Bane tilted back his head and gave a wail unlike any so und Gregor had ever heard a rat make. staining the pure-white fur crimson. They didn't need one. With both his nose and eye damaged. Ares veered off to one side but the Bane's fr ont paw swiped after them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That's when Gregor realized what he had done. Gregor could use the dagger to attack as well as defen d. as the Ban . To calm himself. who had turned and was heading for Regalia as fast as his damaged wing would allow. Ares took that opportunity to rip his wing free and the fight began in e arnest. because suddenly the Bane attacke d. Blood was pouring down over his face. As the tail came reflexively up in defense. but the hit had only needled the Bane .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Something bad had happened to Gregor's back. causing the Bane to jerk his head back an d roar. the Bane bolted after them. He snagged the edge of Ares's wing and swung them in toward his teeth. but pretty close." Gregor gasped in Ares's ear. the Bane had to get them past his nose. they came so thick and fast. If they got in close enough. the bat snapped his wings closed and rolled. But it was so much more than that to the Bane. He had wanted to take out the tail because it was such a powerful weapon. but wedged a couple of inches too far int o his body. The rat ran at a breakneck pace toward the wall and. No wonder he couldn't get any oxygen. snapping at anythi ng in his path. then gn awed on his tail until it was a bloody mess. He could tell when he placed his ha nd where the last blow had landed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The Bane could not immediately register his loss. with Ares twisting and diving and f lipping as Gregor took on the claws and fangs. let alone twist into some convenient position fo r Ares to retrieve him. He circled around to find his tail again and again and finally. so Gregor couldn't le t down his guard for a second. f orcing the last remaining air out of his lungs. Gregor was unable to inhale. Maybe not quite as fast as Gregor. catc hing Gregor on the left side of his back. Gregor mustered every ounce of strengt h he could and swung. Forget about power. What seemed to throw the rat the most were assaul ts on his face. No. though. the thing he reached for when he could not cope. Greg or's sword sliced through one nostril. It was hard to break down the moments. landed on the top. But be fore he pulled them into his mouth. In a move they had only just practiced in their last training session. they were there. his security bl anket. But he was just going to have to make do without it. when he saw the severed part lying on the grou nd. whirling around in a circle. He could literally hear his bat's claws scrape the ground as his chest slammed onto Ares's neck. and then flattened onto Ares's back as he w hisked them out of range. Gregor swung. His blow cut the tail cleanly in two. It was all he could get out but Ares understood. The bat dove straight down over the Bane's head. A fountain of blood spurted from the wound. Then he caught sight of Ares. since Gregor wa s clearly unable to continue fighting. with on e astonishing leap.r and twisted around to meet them. Seeing he could not. "Tail. and he had just ripped open a foot-long gash over the Bane's eye when it happ ened.

The entire hall was fi lled with bats delivering people and then jetting off again. Go.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 17}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor inched forward on his stomach so his head hung over Ares's shoulder. just for a moment. If he could just have a moment of peace. The majority of the population had already reached t he safety of the palace. sliding off of Ares and onto his hands and kne es. "Go. paws and noses began to poke up o ver the edge of the wall. The best he could do was drag himself over to the side of the balcony and pr op himself up against a large stone urn. I must leave you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar A beautiful silvery-coated rat climbed right up onto the Bane's back.e ran back and forth along the wall. The pain in his ba ck was excruciating. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was not possible. Moaning and crying and screaming. talking in his ear. and more heads were appearing."}{\par \pard \hyphpar But as Ares flew off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar And on his command. and in carts.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That was it. The air was full of beating wings and the floor was quickly filli ng with bleeding humans. But there were still hundreds of people en route. but the injury seemed down too far for that. Ares dove down and plucked a pair of children from a wagon just as their mother had her throat torn open. I'll get help. Any movement of his ribs made it worse. he could at least avoid be ing trampled. He struggled to raise himself. but even that seemed too difficult.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My fault. who had cleared the wall only seconds before his pursuer. damaged one of his vital organs or something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares. until someone came and took them inside. His bat hesitated. He wanted to moan. Gregor kne w her. And there were so many people in dire need of attenti on. "There are others I can save.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . anyway. Twirl-tongue would do it for him. As the Bane continued his rant. killing any humans they could find. It was the lower ribs on the left half of his back. He'd always suspected she had great power over the Bane. Anyon e could see he was a complete mess. an d Gregor watched several people literally ripped apart." Gregor said. He brought them to t he balcony of the High Hall and set them gently down. He wished eve rybody would be quiet. Something was really wrong.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Take the city! Leave no one alive!" bellowed the Bane. There was plent y of moaning around him. "Lie still!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar The Regalian army's priority changed from fighting to rescuing. that he could never organize something like the mass murder of the mice. Twirltongue."}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Yes. Wha t was on your left side. as the army of rats swept down upon them. They huddled together shak ing and weeping. Maybe the Bane had killed him with that tail move. as they attempte d to carry the victims to safety. That was all he had. and he was just waiting to die. The High Hall w as in turmoil. Gregor was in too much pain to call out over the din or even signal his distress. on fo ot. I didn't finish him off. Gregor knew help would be hard to come by. In this way. the rats poured into Regalia. on his own. the front line of the army had joined the Bane. confirmed Gregor's worst fears. The rat that was so persuasive she had almost convinced him to betray Ripred. In less than a minute." said Gregor. anyway? The only thing he could think of was his heart. turned back to f ace the scene. or even this war. But seeing Twirltongu e riding the Bane's back. Some drew swords. Then maybe he wouldn't hurt so badly." Ares said. Scre ams filled the air as the rats swarmed through the streets of the city." said Ares. bu t they were not prepared to defend themselves against such a vicious assault.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Gregor. If the Bane couldn't think coherently. screaming unintelligible words. I'm okay. The side he was weak at defending.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor tried to breathe as shallowly as possible.

was being fulf illed.. "Gregor. "Breathe. There were giant stone doors tha t could be closed between the city and the arena.The longer he sat there the more convinced Gregor was that Sandwich's prophecy \ uc2\u8212-. Even a creature as big as the Bane had only so much blood. it is Howard. and squeezed them hard. Then it took on a more soothing tone. Gregor had seen the blood gushing out of his tail. electr ic flashes of light filled Gregor's eyes. Maybe he was losing his sight. but it was nearly impossible to target the rats in Regali a.at least the part about him and the Bane \uc2\u8212-. too. And probably the Bane was. tick.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The idea was almost comical. tick. except the palace. "No!" This time he was audible. tick. "Inhale!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Clearly Howard was not going away. So Gregor forced himself to take a deep breath a . devouring the bodies of the dead. holding him so that he sat upright by supporting him under his arms.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could just see over the edge of the low wall that rimmed the balcony. tick. white rat curl ed up somewhere. to just go away and leave him alone.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When {\i the monster's blood is spilled}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i When the warrior has been killed}}{\par \pard \hyphpar He was dying. whose strategy was breathing as little as possible. Climbing over the rooftops. but I think I can help." Then he remembered there was no day or night down here. Gr egor vaguely wondered how they were making out." thought G regor through a haze of pain. Gregor. You must s it up. As they probed his ribs. there was no st ructure they couldn't scale. It forced his back to straighten out. and that was probabl y the first sign that he was about to \uc2\u8212--}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor!" He heard the alarm in Howard's voice. watching the final seconds of his life run out?}{\par \pard \hy phpar {\i Tick. tick. The human army had regrouped and w as back on the attack. he was pretty sure he couldn't see right.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar A woman hurried up. tick. The woman stood behind him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Far across the city somewhere was the arena filled with the nibbler refugees. {\i .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Things slowly quieted down. She was giving some kind of instructions. tick. Can you understand me?" Howard's face swam into foc us. though. but no sound came out. and then they were moving him out from the urn. but what about the tunnels tha t led into the arena from the other side? There was no way to know. Clearly they were going to keep torturing him until he did what they wanted. shredding the contents of the homes. The light dimmed somewhat. but that wasn't happening. Gregor! Do it!" shouted Howard. There were too many doors and windows for them to duck into to hide. ti ck.. Things did look ki nd of fuzzy."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "No way!" thought Gregor." Howard said. tick. Take very deep breaths. He wanted to beg them to stop. "You are injured? What is wrong?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Back. tick. because his hands slid around Gregor's body. tick. "It's evening.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor. tick} . Gregor couldn't move." Gregor's lips moved to form the word. His fingers found the indentation at once. felt Gregor's injury. Did the rats have a way of stopping it? Or. Now he could moan all right. at least he was making some dreadful soun d. was the big. The rats were everywhere now. gripped his han ds.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Doctor! The Overlander has need of a doctor!" Howard called.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Breathe. "Soon it will be night. With the ornate carvings on every building. "N o way!" And he ignored the suggestion. like Gregor. Yes. I know this must hurt you very much. Howard knelt in front of him. to leap out of unexpectedly. tick. let alone sit up. tick. Howard must have been used to reading lips.

and suddenly the ribs on his left side popped back into place. it was like being tick-led.nd nearly blacked out. He had made that last cut even after his r ibs had been knocked out of whack. Of the thousands of to rches that usually kept it aglow. Gregor could feel his eyes and nasal passages stinging.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "Where's Ares?" Gregor asked as Howard wound the bandage around him. but don't be s urprised if they decide to airlift them back to the palace. And so it went on. being brought back to consciousness. What else is going on?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "I can find no immediate sign of intern al damage." said Howard." Gregor said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Breathe!" he heard Howard command. T he fliers have been evacuating the city. only to be forced to try again." Gregor said. giving a little laugh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ." How would the humans fight now?}{\par \pard \hyphpar They watched in silence as. "Alt hough I caught a glimpse of his wing. "The palace is our only remaining stronghold." said Howard. wrap the ribs. But tunneling into the palace will take far more effort than reaching our crops. he c ould speak again. which was too bloody and torn to be saved anyway. The last torch arced like a shooting star from the top of a tall building before it was s nuffed out on the ground. Compared to what he'd just b een through.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Better?" Howard asked." said Howard. Sandwich had it built on a particularly deep shelf of stone." Then she was gone before Gregor could thank her. Again and again.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Howard gave him a dose of medicine that was designed to kill pain but not make h im sleep." said Howard. "I guess I had a lot of adrenaline pumping th rough me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But Vikus said there were more." said Howard. "Give him pain medicine."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What about the diggers?" asked Gregor. Most of the humans are thought to be re trieved or dead by now. Howard found the new photograph of Gregor and Luxa and slipped it in Gregor's back pants pocket without comment." said the doctor. "Yeah. they will do it. Look out at Regalia. Gregor had asked Vikus why the humans didn't thr ow the city into darkness when there was to be an attack. tying off his bandage.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh."}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "He's stubborn." said Howard. No one can believe he is flying on it. Something that smelled sharp and tangy was under his nose . yeah. The nibblers are barricaded in the arena. The doctor swiftly exa mined the rest of him. The old man had said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stared out into the city and realized the problem. Gregor felt sore but it was his eyes that were bo thering him. Fin ally when he really thought he couldn't bear it for one more instant." said Gregor. We do not know for sure. prodding him here and there. The air rushed out of his body in a cry of relief. Then he began to wrap Gregor's ribs in strips of spider silk.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah." said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is likely. I hear you severed the Bane's tail after you were hit.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If that is their aim. Taking b reaths. It was true. Many stories of your fate have been circulating. only a handful remained. we have found you now. leaning back on his heels."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is not your eyes. Once. the remaining lights went out."}{\par \pard \hyphpar They eased him out of his armor and cut off his shirt.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But they could still do it." said Gregor. but the blinding pain had lifted. Do you think you can walk now?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Howard helped him to his feet. "We need our eyes to fight. he took a gigantic breath. one by one. He could fill his lungs.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Like you. His back ached. and get him to a bed. The arena is difficu lt to defend. shortly after h e had arrived in the Underland.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No sign of them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I believe he is still searching for those in need of rescue. "Th ere. "I still can't see right." said Gregor. they do not.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar . "Can you get me back to the code room? I could lie down there. please?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar A path opened when people saw who was asking.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I will stop by later to check on your condition. Then another and ano ther joined it until the scratching rang through Regalia." said Ripred. rubbing his hand over his bandage. "You stay here." thought Gregor.}{\par \pard \hy phpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 18}}{\par \pard \hyphpar It started simply."}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Then I am less ashamed to admit it scares me as well.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Gre-go!" Boots ran over." he said. Some seemed amazed to see him at all. Can I get by. I hav e to revive myself. "You bet." But with all of the dead and severely wounded lying in the High Hall that seemed a little whiny. Many of t he injured had not been attended to yet. but she looked on the verge of tears herself. Here." said Gregor.Just as the city fell into total darkness."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "In the Underland?" asked Howard. Ripred sent a bunch of small rats up to scratch on our walls and scare us into coming for the plague meeting. carry these smelling salts with you. he found Lizzie weeping on Ripred's shoulder while the rest of the code team hunched in their rooms.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Whenever you get a chance. I can get to th e code room on my own. "Excuse me. Boots. "It is only to affect our minds. you know now how to r emedy this. Howard. what did I tell you? He left the battle alive. Gregor could walk okay. just kind of bruised up. Thanks. If they do and I am not there to help you. blocking out any other sound. and planted three kisses on the bottom edge of his wrappings. Excuse m e. "But do not try an y strenuous movements for a while.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When he got back to the code room."}{\par \pard \hyph par "Gregor!" said Lizzie. "I thought you were dead!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No." Gregor had to raise his voice for Howard to hear him." said Gregor. "Not only do I have to breathe until I black out. trying to escape the claw s that were threatening to break through the plaster. Many of the Underlanders reached o ut to touch him or allowed themselves a smile." said Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Now that his ribs were back in place. "All better?" she asked. He began to work his way slowly through the crowded halls toward the code room. Really. "Or something pretty near like it. nudging Liz zie's chin so her head turned to see Gregor. the scratching began.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There. "You live!" cried out one old man. "He's just fine. He needed to get away from the creepy sound." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Great. I'm okay.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. The rats cannot possibly scratch their way into the palace ." Howard warned him. It was like a dress rehea rsal of what would happen when he really was killed." said Howard. The floor was sticky with blood. in my apartment back home. Gregor wished he could have avoided seeing it. it works." He pressed a small conta iner about the size of a matchbox into Gregor's hand.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "And did it scare you?" asked Howard." said Gregor. with just one claw on one stone surface. stood on her tiptoes. "We heard the Bane had killed you!" Greg or began to worry what rumors may have gotten back to his sisters and tried to m ove faster.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All better.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor remembered how they had all fled the apartment. "The bones can shift out of place again." said Howard."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. befo re it really did a number on his nerves.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I've heard that before. Boots was patting Lizzie 's hair.

If the rats come I w on't even be able to help fight.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why don't you two do something useful?" said Ripred. and there was Ripred's nose poking over the end of the bed. "So what's been going on here? Any luck with the code?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar But apparently this was the wrong thing to say because it only set Lizzie off on a fresh round of sobs."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're staying?" asked Lizzie. "Oh. Her face wa s very pale but she wasn't crying. " Now she's as good as new." said Lizzie. and so am I. do I?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. She sat next to him. but Gregor could still hear i t. He gratefully sank onto the bed. just in case she happens to recogn ize it as something other than a tail. " Some of us are trying to work. if you don't mind.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. Temp." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Don't be ridiculous. The rest of the code team gathered around an d silence fell on the room. but I'm still betting on you." said Gregor." said Ripred. But he did admit you did better than he had hoped." said Ripred reproachfully." said Gregor."You might have sent word of your whereabouts. I don't really have to explain how imperative breaking this code is. Clearly he had to downplay his injury as much as possible. my ribs were messed up." said Luxa. Couldn' t do much until Howard and a doctor found me and popped them back into place. You can't throw a rock without hitting thirty warriors dow n here. positioning h imself on his right side to avoid any pressure on his bruised ribs and the wound on his hip. "May be if we reversed the Copernicus Cipher. not Ripred. we are sorry.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. stranger things have happened.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. "They say you and Ares fought the Bane magnificently."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . I'm no good at all. She lay on her stomach wi th her elbows on his head and peered down at a strip of cloth on the floor. because your poor sister has been so worried about you. holding his hand." said Luxa. I'm worthless.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They both laughed. It will at least keep her out of everyone 's hair. "We l ost track of you after you retreated.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "I'm not the code-breaker. "It has cost us precious hours. just in case she is the pri ncess. we have not had any luck on the code. but code-breakers are as rare as trees." Gregor tried hard not to wi nce as he put it on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa came to his side and whispered. That is. Maybe it's Boots after all . "Should you be resting?" He nodded and let her lead him into the human room."}{\par \pard \h yphpar "It's not his fault. "Solovet may wage her war without me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Like running some more of the code by Boots."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had the feeling the rat would really like to bite his head off." Ripred said." she said. The cockr oach had a clean shirt in his mouth." Luxa had appeared in the arch of the rat room." }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Who says? Not Ripred?" asked Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Let's give it a try."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Still sniffling." Temp nudged Gregor in the leg. a lot like when Aurora dislocated her wing in the jungle. I'm staying until we crack this thing. I want to be. I'm no good at it."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "Like Aurora's wing." said Luxa. "Now climb on and we'll work together.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "True enough. And then h e took all of the credit for it." said Ripred. That was hours ago. "Thanks. "Report anything of interest." said Ripred . It was very fain t here. but I'm not."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Only way we get to see each other. "One or the other of us alwa ys seems to be recuperating. but he di dn't dare do anything else to upset Lizzie." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Like what?" Gregor asked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. except for the scratching. so far from the outer walls of the palace." Lizzie choked out. Lizzie scooted up onto Ripred's back. wiping her nose on her sleev e.

"I know. 'WHAT SHE SAW, IT IS THE FLAW OF THE CODE OF CLAW,' " said Luxa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Whatever that means," Gregor mumbled to Luxa after Ripred had left.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boots and Temp were sent in, along with about fifty yards of white strips covere d in code. "Where do they get this stuff, anyway?" Gregor asked. "I mean, who wr ites it down?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The rats send the code through rock seams that carry sounds well," said Luxa. " This is a tap." She hit the stone wall once with her fingernail. "A click." She made two very quick, softer hits. "And a scratch." She scraped her nail briefly on the wall. "A short pause indicates the break between letters and a longer pau se, the break between words. I cannot really replicate it at full speed. Can you , Temp?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Like this, it sounds, like this," said Temp. He placed his foot on the floor an d began to drill out a series of taps, clicks, and scratches that were so rapid that Gregor's ears could never have sorted them out. Especially those taps and c licks. Of course, when his dad had played a Morse code message for them on the c omputer, even a really slow one, that had seemed unintelligible, too.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "We have many spies positioned at strategic points to record the messages. It is not difficult to intercept, as the rats make no effort to conceal it when it is encoded. Then the messages are written down by humans and flown to the code roo m," said Luxa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar No one had been bothering to translate the chicken-scratch code into regular alp habet letters \uc2\u8212-- probably all of the code team could read it like that , anyway \uc2\u8212-- so Luxa quickly drew up the Tree of Transmission as a guid e. She may not have enjoyed learning this stuff in class, but she didn't even ha ve to go out in the main room to copy the tree. She could remember the whole thi ng by heart.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I guess that old mouse must have been a pretty good teacher," said Gregor.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "I suppose so," Luxa said. "The tree is not difficult for me to recall."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar {\*\shppict{\pict\picw312\pich515\jpegblip ffd8ffe000104a46494600010100000100010000ffdb004300080606070605080707070909080a0c 140d0c0b0b0c1912130f141d1a1f1e1d1a1c1c20242e2720 222c231c1c2837292c30313434341f27393d38323c2e333432ffdb0043010909090c0b0c180d0d18 32211c213232323232323232323232323232323232323232 323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232323232ffc00011080203013803 012200021101031101ffc4001f0000010501010101010100 000000000000000102030405060708090a0bffc400b5100002010303020403050504040000017d01 020300041105122131410613516107227114328191a10823 42b1c11552d1f02433627282090a161718191a25262728292a3435363738393a434445464748494a 535455565758595a636465666768696a737475767778797a 838485868788898a92939495969798999aa2a3a4a5a6a7a8a9aab2b3b4b5b6b7b8b9bac2c3c4c5c6 c7c8c9cad2d3d4d5d6d7d8d9dae1e2e3e4e5e6e7e8e9eaf1 f2f3f4f5f6f7f8f9faffc4001f010003010101010101010101000000000000010203040506070809 0a0bffc400b5110002010204040304070504040001027700 0102031104052131061241510761711322328108144291a1b1c109233352f0156272d10a162434e1 25f11718191a262728292a35363738393a43444546474849 4a535455565758595a636465666768696a737475767778797a82838485868788898a929394959697 98999aa2a3a4a5a6a7a8a9aab2b3b4b5b6b7b8b9bac2c3c4 c5c6c7c8c9cad2d3d4d5d6d7d8d9dae2e3e4e5e6e7e8e9eaf2f3f4f5f6f7f8f9faffda000c030100 02110311003f00f7fa28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a280 0a28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a280296ab25f45a65c3e990c735e052628e46daacde8 4d719e15f16788b55f17dde8da9d85ac0b6b1ee95a124e0e 400327eb5dbdeddc56161717731db1c31b3b93d801935e73f0b75ad32f5afae66bfb77d5f53b8695 a00e0b8519c0c7d2803d3e8a28a0028a28a0028a28a0028a

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| / | | | / / | / | | | |.makes {\i X. le tter after letter.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boots traced along the tree with her chubby finger.. pointing to th e sequence | | |\.straight. But the tree was the best balance they could find betw een speed and ease of remembrance. transcribing the code in low voices.}{\par \pard \hyphpar .. for about an hour. "Shall we begin?"}{\par \pard \hy phpar Boots seemed to enjoy finding what set of lines matched which alphabet letter a lot more than she had enjoyed their earlier code games..left. Boots." said Luxa. | \ |// \ / \ {\i |} / | / / {\i |} / \. At least learned it well enough to send Luxa this message:} {\par \pard \hyphpar | | / \ | \ / \ \ . and wrote an X above the corresponding lines with one o f Lizzie's markers.} which requires three.. {\i |} / / | | \.006bff00c2cef07ffd06a0fd693fe167f83f38fed987f5ac a5f82de11dbcc1704faf9edfe34a3e0b78471cdbdc1ffb6edfe3401a83e27f840b6d1ac4473df071 4e6f89be105383acc20fe3592bf063c1fb4e6d6727d7cf7f f1a07c16f08f7b7b83ff006ddbfc680357fe167783ff00e83507eb4dff0085a1e0fc91fdb117d706 b2cfc16f0811836f71ff007fdbfc69c3e0bf8401e6dae0ff 00db76ff001a00d35f89fe107ce3578860679a77fc2cdf0871ff0013a879fad651f82fe0fc716b38 ff00b6effe349ff0a5bc23ff003ef71ff7fdbfc680350fc4 ff00078cff00c4e61e3eb4dff85a5e0fff00a0bc7f9566ff00c296f08ffcfbdc7fdff6ff001a77fc 29af077fcf9cff00f810ff00e3401a2bf147c1ec71fdb110 fa8340f8a1e0f271fdb110fa8359a7e0bf843b5b5c0f6f3dff00c693fe14b7847fe7dee3feff00b7 f8d0068b7c54f07a9ff90aa1fa0a4ff85abe10cffc8517fe f9aa43e0cf83b1cd9ce7fede1ffc694fc19f071e96530ffb7893fc68038ff8b1e34d0fc41e1cb6b6 d32f92791670ecaa3a015d57873e25785ad3c35a75b5cea9 1a4d0dba23a91d085031527fc299f0767fe3ce7ffc087ff1a3fe14d783bfe7ce7ffc087ff1a00d0f f85a5e0fc7fc85a3fca9abf157c1ec71fdaa83ea2a8ffc29 af077fcf9cff00f810ff00e34a7e0df83b240b29867fe9e1ff00c6802fff00c2d2f07ffd05e3fca8 ff0085a5e0ff00fa0bc7f95503f067c1ddace71ff6f0ff00 e340f837e0e19ff429b9ff00a787ff001a00ba7e2af8401ff90a2ffdf34e5f8a5e106c7fc4da304f 622a8ffc29af06edc7d866cfafda24ff001a0fc1af069031 63303ebf6893fc6802f8f8a3e10271fdad1e7e94c3f153c1e067fb550fb01547fe14d78381ff008f 29bff021ff00c683f06fc1c4ff00c794dff810ff00e34017 7fe16af843fe828bff007cd3bfe16a783f6eefed64fa639aa1ff000a6bc1dff3e73ffe043ff8d28f 833e0eff009f39cffdbc3ff8d005ff00f85a5e0fc67fb5a3 fca9a7e2af83c63fe26a873e8b547fe14d783bfe7ce7ff00c087ff001a5ff8537e0ec63ec537fe04 3ff8d005cff85abe10ff00a0a2ff00df34e1f14fc1e467fb 5a31ec4550ff008535e0eff9f39fff00021ffc68ff008535e0eff9f39fff00021ffc6802f0f8abe1 0271fda8a3fe0341f8abe0f071fda8a7e8b54bfe14df83b0 3fd0a6ff00c087ff001a907c1ff070cffa04a7a7fcb76ff1a0075c7c5cf09410b3adf34a54642a2e 49fd6b8ff870b75e27f88fa878ade068ad14304dddf702a0 7bf06bb28be12783a2955c69acc41ce1a6620fe19aec2cac2d74db55b6b3823821418548d4281f95 0059a28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a 2800a28a2800a28a2800a28a2803ffd9 }} {\line } }{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is not perfect in this respect.. | | / \." Gregor said. And so they went on. Because the letter {\i B} only requires two signals. "Straight. /.} It makes {\i X.. By that time. although it is much less common than the letter {\ i O.. | / \ \. of course..strai ght.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Okay. find straight-straight-straight-left. Gregor had pretty much learn ed the tree himself.} Gre-go!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good job!" said Gregor.

spoke up. So there was all that baggage. "Am I to get all of my updates from seven-year-old boys?" he bellowed." said L izzie. and tossed it back at him. basically. Can I help in here?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why not?" asked Ripred." said Hazard. For one thing. They ate in silence. "Tell S olovet I am not being kept informed!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's not the rats scratching?" Gregor asked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can the letter {\i A} ever be a letter A?" asked Hazard. reading them backward. Gregor was practically in a trance . Gregor. using their own st rategies to try and break the Code of Claw. Gregor wondered if it had been a mistake.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Uh-huh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You think they have another plan to enter it?" asked Luxa." She quickly wrote the correct alp habet letters above the lines. He wanted more pain medi cine. and then it will make sense." said Lizzie. this is like a cryptogram. occasionall y twitching or murmuring something indistinct. wadded up the strip of fabric. But as th ey went on with their task. By the t ime Ripred called for everybody to take five. "At least they are not digging for t he palace. trying to find words." said Luxa. "What is wrong?" she asked him. direct thoughts wer e all his brain could muster. He wanted to go home. murmuring. The y say it is too dangerous. He wished he hadn't sent it but it was too late now. "Perhaps some new blood will refresh our minds.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. it w as Henry's joke.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They will not let me continue matching the nibbler pups with their parents. any references to d ying right now weren't exactly humorous. but there's some extra trick on top of that. He wanted to go to sleep. "Can they?" He bounded over to the door .}{\par \pard \hy phpar Ripred turned back to the group. He wanted to go home.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Like the chart on the floor?" asked Hazard. they're working on one.She laughed. they k now we'll wear ourselves out bringing in the nibblers. it will have to be quite a plan. Luxa and Temp took over the lesson m ore and more until Gregor was really just observing. Although why not worries me."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Does each letter stand for another letter?" Hazard asked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They will be safer here. People had thought the Bane had killed him until he'd walked in. Those little lines stand for these letters. See."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Dulcet says I will be needed later. Like maybe you're supposed to throw out every third letter or something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Hazard came in unhappily and sat next to Luxa. That all of the nibblers must be brought to the palac e now. He wanted to go home. "That I should rest." said Hazard. This sounds completely different. He didn't want to join the others for tea and cake."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What are you doing?" asked Hazard. She had th ought it was funny at first. and a letter is n . now that the diggers can be heard tunneling toward the arena.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We don't think so." said Hazard . In the meantime.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. so he dragged himself out of bed." She took the nearest strip of fabric and an aqua-blue marker from her back-pack and sat next to Hazard. Finally Lizzie. "Only even when we turn it into letters we still can't re ad the message because it's in code. A really hard code. but he was afraid Lizzie w ould get upset if he didn't. but now she looked kind of sad. no. But I am not sleepy. "But as they have never succeeded before. "This is a message sent by one rat to another ." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyph par The code team was too discouraged for chitchat.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I think if they don't.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar Boots lost interest in the tree so they made up some other games with the letter s on the strips. No one seemed to have the energy to answer." Hazard said. Simple. who hated it when people ignored her questions. leaning his head on her shoulder. For another. "I'll show you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred jerked his head up from his cake.

" said Gregor. Oh. "An anagram." said Gregor." said Lizzie. too." said Lizzie. But this new information produced a strange reaction in the room.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "In the naming is the catching." said Daedalus. "Think about exactly what it was that you saw.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's the word I saw. w ho was twisting the aqua marker around and around in her hands. One by one.of Gregor's \uc2\u8212-. her lips moving silently over the letter s."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie's eyes shifted to the code tree and began to dart around the letters. and there are letters that don't change.'" said . where you just take the letters and mix them around to form another word. I did. "Gre\uc2\u8212--gor.ever itself.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Man." Lizzie said to herself. That he and Gorger really had the same name. Like the word 'n ap' could be the word 'pan' and the 'a' doesn't have to move. giving Lizzie a poke in the side.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's what I said when Gregor told me about the Underland.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It would be a good choice. "Yeah.wasn't about my \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had seen several panic attacks begin like this and was tempted to interve ne. She read it. But everyone else was frozen. When she looked up. the members of the code team raised their heads and stared at Lizzie. it is the flaw in the Code of Claw. Where some letters can be themselves. Hazard." said Lizzie." He didn't see what the big deal was. I'm talking about meeting giant spiders and throwing myself off a cliff.name at all!" Lizzie suddenly dropped her marker and snatched up the piece of code she h ad been showing to Hazard. what if it's like an anagra m. "Okay.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "Maybe \uc2\u8212-. I think \uc2\u8212-.' " said Gregor.name. Because the letters matched.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "An anagram \uc2\u8212-. her next words were barely audible. you know how she can mess around with words. He took a deep drink of his tea and was vaguely wondering if he should eat more cake when Heronian spoke up. There's another kind of puzzle that's called an anagram. "That's what I saw.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "I saw that right off.I know \uc2\u8212-. not daring to interrupt whatever was going on in her head."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "And you think it's 'Gregor'?" asked Ripred." Reflex said in a quivering voice. and all Lizzie can say is that this nasty old rat king named Gorger and I've got the same name.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She saw that right off?" the mouse asked slowly. "Well. I saw an anagram. Then all you would need is one key w ord and a really simple code and the rats could still keep it in their heads. that seemed forever ago! When he'd told his family the story of his first t rip. she saw that right off. Lizzie." Her mouth dro pped open slightly and her breath came out in short pants. "She saw that right off?"}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Sure did. or the word 'cat' could be the word 'act'\uc2\u8212--"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Or the name 'Gregor' could be the name 'Gorger.how to break \uc2\u 8212-.the code!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b PART 3: The Warrior}}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 19}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie flipped over the strip of fabric and wrote the alphabet on the blank side as the words tumbled out of her mouth. You could remember it by 'Gregor' or 'Gorger. Noticing that "Gregor" had the same letters a s "Gorger" couldn't hold a candle to doing that crazy who-ate-the-cheese-for-lun ch puzzle. So he waited."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "What she saw. Gor\uc2\u8212--ger. okay.that line \uc2\u8212-.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Liz !" he said." said Ripred. try it!" said Ripred. The rest of you must swea r to secrecy. "A letter can be itself!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie was laughing as she flung her arms around his neck.arrive \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A is represented by {\i B.. and tossed her in the air." She wrote these letters above themselves on the alphabet. high-fiving his sister. hugging him back. scooped her up with his nose.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie's hands were trembling as she lifted the strip and began to read. be the simplest." said Gregor. too. But he was happy.camp \uc2\u8212-." said Lizzie. B} is {\i C."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can I go tell the nibblers the code is broken? I am sure it will lighten their hearts." For a moment. We need the latest transmissions.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's old.near \uc2\u 8212-. "Good job. Tunnel \uc2\u8212-. C} is {\i D." said Reflex. R."}{\par \pard \hyphpar .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is even easier. He's the one who made me thin k about the anagrams. D} would be {\i F} because the E remains unchanged. Heronian leaped back and forth over Ripred and Lizzie. He spun half-way around and caught her so she l anded on his back. "And Hazard. Hazard." Heronian said. stunned at their success. "The words only require four letters: {\i G-O-R-E." said Daedalus. single shift." Hazard said. "No one outside of this room must know we h ave broken the code. Joyful even." Luxa said. I will personally inform Solovet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was all of us. Her aqua marker speedily filled in the remaining letters.} and {\i E} stay the same." said Lizzie. "So everyth ing will be all right? Now that they've broken the code?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It will be better at least. he could tell she was thinking of the rest of the prophecy. So the {\i G.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No!" said Ripred. "A letter can be itse lf! A letter can be itself!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar And suddenly the whole code team burst into some kind of brainiac celebration. Of his death. And even old Min had gea red up into some creaky old cockroach dance.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar {\b BCDFEHGIJKLMNPOQSRTUVWXYZA ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Try it! Go on. "Fresh c ode! Fresh code!" he called. "Digger s \uc2\u8212-. thrusting an unbroken strip of code before Lizzie. they all just sat there. Hazard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boots was in heaven.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Single shift. Hazard wrapped his arms tightly around Luxa.' One needs only to remember the word {\i gore.. suddenly serious.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar E G O R}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And now we use a cipher so simple that no one could forget it. R eflex began to shoot lines of silk around the room like they were streamers."}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.Heronian.. He bounded back to Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Everything's going to be just fine. running here and there. "A letter can be yourself! A letter can be yourself !" she crowed. The last thing he wan ted to do was crush this moment of victory with his own troubles. and boogying on Temp's back. you clueless little thing. Dae dalus was scooping up heaps of code with his wings and flinging them in the air.Regalia.} 'Gore.under way.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie nodded and began to fill in the letters. spinning in the streamers of silk.at \uc2\u8212-. a letter can be yourself. although Lizzie was way a head of her." said Min." Ripred ran to the door. "Yes. But when she looked at Gregor. O.

Boots. took him in. and then let the lid slowly slide shut. as they'd been the other night. and it was too dangerous to t ry to approach the ants. But Ripr ed had other work for him. although he though t Hazard was right and that the news might give everybody a big psychological bo ost. anyway. the alliance with the diggers. the second to decrypt it with the Code of Claw. on e to write it as the alphabet. He wasn 't really tired now. Was she getting the care she needed? Or was the hospital there as overwhelmed as the one in Regalia? And what about his dad and grandma? Boy. When he awoke. Gregor found it difficult to believe the ants would joi n either the humans or the rats. JP. His stomach felt better. we will manage this. Her nose buried in the moss of the arena because the smell of humans made her ill. But when he thought of the wounded. He found a tureen half-filled with lukewarm beef st ew and finished it off. Probably nothing pleased them more than a big old war between the tw o.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor wished Howard would come by with some more medicine. Ripred opened one bleary eye. the Bane's location \uc2\u8212-. Gregor went over to the food cart an d rooted around for a snack. Temp snored gently on the floor. He had risked his life to save an outcast rat when no one else would both . Luxa. Ripred must have sent everyone to bed. QJU}}{\par \pard \hyphpar And then applied the Code of Claw using Lizzie's system. At one point Luxa whispere d. He could send a message to the hospita l. Memories of the rat swam before his eyes. "Don't \uc2\u8212-. A young woman brought in a basket filled with tightly rolled bundles of cod e. Hazard. It was mostly the same-old same-old stuff about troop movements that had occurred weeks ago. he knew Howard hadn't had a second to do it. Gregor began to think about that nap again. anyway. so Gregor was abl e to lie down again. The area on the stone grid was covered with the latest messages all neatly transcribed in Lizzie 's aqua marker. The code team gathered around it. but his back and hip hurt. they were so busy just keeping people alive he felt like a wimp bu gging them. too. the spiders were trying to remain neu tral (so Reflex's presence here must be a secret).}{\par \pard \hyphpar Try as he might. as she choked out. Gregor could not keep his eyes open. eager to decipher the latest messages. But there were still bunches of the old code spilling over baske ts.All the code team nodded in agreement. "Sleep. anyway. The words stabbed him i n the heart. They had to do two passes on each strip of code. And then out of nowhere came this message:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b // |||\ |\\ // |/ / // |\\ \|. Gregor tried to go back to sl eep. he hoped his dad wasn't having any ideas ab out coming down here to rescue them all. but again. He made his way to his feet in stages and went into the code room. Hazard. The desperate look on he r face as she spun around in the whirlpool. He enlisted Gregor.let \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He poured a mug of cold tea and gave up on the idea of returning to bed."}{\par \pard \hyphpar So Gregor just let himself drift off. and his shoes sticking to the bloody floor of the High Hall. He was hungry again.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Twitchtip. He wondered about his mom up at the Fount. FJEF. Luxa suggested they work back in the bedroom. and Boots were asleep on the bed across from him.}{\b |\\ \\ . Luxa. The cockroaches had not.} He wrote it as the alphabet:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b UXJUDIUJQ. everything was quiet.but s ome yielded important information in terms of which species had sided or not sid ed with the Bane. Desp ite the general excitement. They had made it very clear they wanted both sp ecies dead.go!" And he hadn't l et go. and Temp to decode the piles of accumulated messages. too. Lizzie and Ripred were asleep on th e floor.updates on the battle to free the nibblers.}{\b ||\ |\\ \ ||\. Gregor grabbed a handful of strips and settled himself down to work. It was an awful thing to wish on his dad but it was better than ha ving him drop straight down into the jaws of the rats. Maybe his relapse was bad enough to kee p him in bed. so Gregor nodded. Her claws digging into his life jack et. M ost of the messages were old news \uc2\u8212-. Might as well make himself useful. just in case there had been anything o f value in them. \| |\\ //.

He hadn't kept his voice down. wasting away for years in that r at pit. "Come." s . }{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's not all right!" Gregor's voice was harsh. Twitchtip's life. "I am sorry. but the bones are holding in place.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Footsteps entered the code room. She had given Boots food. as should ours.er to try. because he didn't want to wake everyone to see him like this. They had her imprisoned in a pit until recently. Afraid the rats had broken into the palace. And they had her all this time. He sa nk down on the bed and wept. As alone as ever. Ripred! I mean. "Quite a bruise. desperately. Then he sat on the bed.like she mattered t o you!" said Gregor. Sit up." Howard helped him to a sitting position. administered a dose of painkiller. It was quie t outside again. "Where is Gregor?" asked Howard in an exhausted voice. And finally. She had not gone back to bed. Then he just lay on the bed watching the soft flicker of light from an oil lamp on the wall. He thought of his dad. He knew it wasn't just about Twitchtip. elbows on his knees." said Gregor. or even for himself when he knew about the prophecy."}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was a moment of silence while Howard absorbed the news. Bleeding to death in the maze but not fast enough. He is greatly upset." Luxa replied." he said. and gave him the rest of the bottle for later. Finally he examined his back. "Gregor. "I should have gone back for her. The rats had kept her alive in a pit and probably tortured and starved her while they tried t o extract information out of her about Gregor. And we never even found out for sure."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Howard opened the curtain to the rat room and came in. she'd left the world. Frightened by his outburst." Ripred was looking over his shoulder at the message. "Leave me alone!" The weeping sent new shock waves of pain through his ribs . He painted a new coat of medicine on Gregor's hip and calf stitches. He had not attempted to save Twitchtip from the whirlpool at first but had taken excellent care of her afterward. "Just shut up!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor stormed into the rat room and yanked the curtain closed behind him. only recently. "We had word of Twitchtip's death. And then they were friends.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All right. of all those Twitch tip knew in her life. Not for his mom or Ares or t he mice or Thalia or Luxa. A hand. All right now. Gr egor didn't reply. But she hadn't died. so I' could kill the Bane for you. You must have need of this. not soon enough to escape falling into the hand s of the rats who hated her for being a scent seer and then hated her even more for helping Gregor. Only Gregor's grief should not be mixed with shame. "It isn't likely they \uc2\u8212--"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just shut up. it was abou t all of the dreadful things that had happened and the ones that awaited him in the coming hours. The tears splashing down on the words surpris ed him because he hadn't cried in such a long time." said Ho ward. "She did us all a great service and what poor treatment we gave her in return. Everyone must have gone back to sleep. It was just that it had all been so awful. Twitchtip wa s the first one who knew he was a rager. digging the palms of his hands into his forehead. living alone in that harsh worl d before she finally. had teamed up with Ripred. Practically everyone was awa ke now. there's almost no chance we could have gotten her out. Lizzie's he thought." he said as he wrapped the ribs ag ain. and applied fresh bandages.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "In there. but low. what do you care? You never even liked her! You t reated her like trash. then forced him and Ares to leave her to die. I am sure she would wish you the least amount of grief. She had dragg ed herself through the rats' maze to help Gregor find the Bane. You only made that deal with her to help yourself." sai d Ripred. tentatively edged around the curt ain. but it was a long time before he'd cried himself out. trying to find the right words.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But we didn't know. Don't act now like \uc2\u8212-. She was waiting fo r him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We thought she was dead. "So should we all be. Banished to the Dea d Land because of her remarkable sense of smell." said Ripred. despite the rat/human thing. Had she died in the same one they'd found his father in?}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Even if we'd known. Not right away. then.

I promise I'll wake you. too. They had been working only a few minutes when Min began to click in distre ss." Howard looked down at his hands. "Bad news. somehow suggesting their current situation.she got the wrong side. "I truly believed her dead.diggers \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know. They wer e shaking badly. If anyone knew about being tortured in a pit it was Ripred." she whispered. Ripred had treated Twitchtip like he trea ted almost everybody else. Gregor felt sure he would have made good on his promise to let her join his band of rats.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor set Boots back on her feet and went over to help Luxa with the strips of code. his teeth overgrowing until they'd locked in a grotesque fashion. thinking. with his back and all. Lie down.}{\par \pard \hyphpar In the time it took Gregor to pull the blanket up. "Slaughtering one anot her.attack \uc2\u8212--" she read. bloodshot and swollen from fatigue. Not great. Gregor cam e out into the code room.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Two' hours. Everyone was up again. that will be the first step. She could translate the chicken scr atch into letters and then break the code on sight now. here be. Walling ourselves in with our dead."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. and wished he hadn 't yelled at him. Boots came over a nd put her arms up. "Ow. when she was still too little to say her name.. this fantasy that she'd escaped. "You must rest your back if it is to heal." Boots said. I h ad." said Gregor. They had protected each other in the maze for as long as they could."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Just for a few hours.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'll put her there. He couldn't lift her. not exac tly \uc2\u8212-." This was the sign she had used for Twitchtip. Nothing was really safe until it w as dead. thought about the rat's family. She was safe back in the Dead Land or something." Luxa said wanly. like. wh o had been left by the Bane to die in the Firelands." said Gregor." said Howard." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's how it works down here. so Luxa hurried to help her." Gregor confirmed." said Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You helped her. All of it. on them. But he knew she meant his heart.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? Where?" asked Ripred. In the maze. so he sat down and pulled her onto his lap. too."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You need some rest.aid Howard. If you could see the hospital. A basket of new code rolls came in and Ripred put everybody. "You were the only one of us who looked p ast her fur and teeth and claws and saw who she really was.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Because you were right. "A few hours?"}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "You {\i are} going to hurt somebody." Howard waved a hand vaguely." He stood up and pushed Howard back on th e bed." said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ow. She had had h er own connection with Twitchtip." He gingerly t ouched his eyes. bad news!" The cockroach was too agitated to read the me ssage outright. Lie down. patting his chest over his heart. jumping to her side. Howard was asleep.reach \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Only I begin to fear I will do more harm than good. He looked at Ripred. Howard. After the whirlpool. even those who had been translating the old stuff. "She died."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She is safe now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You put her here. If we are ever to ha ve peace. Well. back at work. Not that it mattered now. He caught Luxa's sad gaze.arena \uc2\u8212-. But Ripred hadn't killed her and if she ha d lived." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . She pressed her hand to her nose." Gregor said.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Howard looked at him as if he couldn't quite process the words. Gregor. too. "I guess I must have. The alternative is this. But I didn't deal with it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "When \uc2\u8212-.la unch \uc2\u8212-. to indicate the rat's hurt nose. No more. it had been better before Boots had understood ab out dying. So pointless." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa held up the strip of fabric so they could both see it..

"How long will this take?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No telling. We have to split up." Luxa repeated." said Luxa. Shred every bit of evidence that we've broken the code.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor knew what he meant."}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "I thought the spinners were neutral." said Ripred. They would have to swim down several hundred yards from the nort h beach." said Lizzie . Nerissa is there with a key. "They've got him hidden in a cave mor e likely. Have you seen it lately? Since the earthquake?" said Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All right. she'd read the truth.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You can't fight like that. anyway.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar Lizzie piled a stack of blankets on Temp's back and Boots climbed on to ride. Lock yoursel ves in and don't open it until you've been told to.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You think you're in any condition for battle? Attack me. but he ended up having to let Hazard do it. Ripred's right. Gregor. but they could do it. "All right. Lizzie. " I know of a window not far from here." said Luxa. What defense have we in place at the docks?" ask ed Luxa. I will find a way to fly her to safety.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You have been in the war room. But don't worry." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's back screamed as he reached for his weapons. Gr egor tried to push a cart. aren't they? Now move out!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor retrieved his dagger and took a step toward the door. giving Gregor's arm a farewel . wait. If she came to the prophecy room. First priority. "They're helping you. and Temp go to the prophecy room. Bo ots. we'd never waste you in ordinary combat now. Better grab some blankets and one of those carts. We need you to fight the Bane. we can't have you all sitting in one bunch." Daedalus said." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's very low. We split up the code team."By the river."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why? I should be getting on my armor. Everybody had. eyeing Reflex. If the rats should enter the palace."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not anymore. read pro phecies all day?" said Ripred pointedly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 20}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred began to pace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "By the river. Daedalus." he read aloud. They would be to rn to shreds in the rapids." Ripred ordered.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "I will come see you as soon as I can." said Ripred. Ripred had taken great care to keep Lizzie from knowi ng about the real "Prophecy of Time" and what it predicted for Gregor." Luxa said. "No one can attack by the river. Gregor. "Nothing at all.. with a team of spinners to keep his tail bandaged. and Heronian stay here. Maybe that was better.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Nothing."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Really? You want Lizzie in the prophecy room with nothing to do but. Reflex." said Ripred. "No. I want L izzie with me." said Ripred. I don't expect he'll be swimming down the river." said Ripred. She had been too ill to notice anything on their flight back fr om the Firelands. I want Min. nod ding to a group of fresh food carts that had recently been wheeled in. Maybe Daedalus could ev en find a way to fly her home. and Luxa in the war room.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "I'll be okay in here. Even if you could.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Neutral meaning they help both sides so when the war ends they've aided the vic tor. Hazard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If danger approaches. He managed to pull them fr om the belt but ended up dropping his dagger on the floor..

It would t ake time. Hazar d and Boots were little kids. one unexpected. At least there would be some warning ." she said. two lines connected. When all s eems lost.}{\par \pard \hyphpar On soft {\i feet. He willed himself to ignore what was happening out side the door. telling him their historie s." said Nerissa. they intersected. by most rejected. Gregor co nsidered abandoning it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Read you the title?" asked Nerissa. was a lot tougher on Gregor than fighting. but Nerissa adamantly refused. what's one little peek going to hurt?" he begged.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor decided to put all of his energy into getting better. according to Ripred's instructions. whom he now had a very low opinion of. Temp could fight and would fight if the going got rough. The three of them chattered away in Crawler while Gregor ate. but the rats could eventually claw through it. though. He wondered if that mattered much. They fashioned the blankets into beds along the wa lls. Gregor. and Gregor lay down. The door was made of thick wood. No one came by to give them any word. He estimated that digge rs could take it out in less than a minute. since resurrected. He learned a lot about Regalia's past.}{\i two lines met."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Waiting. by none detected. and dozed off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Some. it turned out.}{\par \pard \hyph par "Look at this poem.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It is one of the few rooms in the palace with a door. Temp amused Boo ts and Hazard.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That comforts you? Why?" asked Gregor. Nerissa. Hours passed and then became days. Gregor.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Finally." agreed Gregor. I comfort myself with its words. "Come on. If Gregor didn't heal up pretty qui ckly. Had the rats attacked? Were the hum ans prepared? Why had no one updated them? He suggested that they open the door and just call out for information. who would defend them? Nerissa had probably never even held a sword. so he would rest. It was very slow going.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Marked by X. If he didn't move.l touch. he became more and more anxio us about what was transpiring in the palace. But nothing else. She' d made no provisions for eating or sleeping. To him it was just more junk from Sandwi ch. Nerissa tried to distract him by showing him different prophecies. She drew them into the prophecy room.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Killed by claw.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor noticed the title for the first time. and Gregor led the way t o the prophecy room.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Dealing death. the painkiller Howard had given him made him comfortable enough."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sighed and turned his eyes to a short poem on the wall in the corner wher e Nerissa usually curled up. The key disappeared in the pocket of her skirt. and slept. Above the poem were written the wor ds:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i ." said Nerissa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The group split up. It will offer some protec tion. closed the d oor. but there was a stack of new torche s by the wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why did Ripred want us in here?" Gregor asked her. but he had no idea what they were in for. But not much. especially with the cart.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "This is not your battle. and locked it at once. "It is by far my favorite. Occasionally the y would hear footsteps running down the hallway and voices shouting indistinct w ords. Howard said he need ed to rest. too k painkillers. But he'd be no match for rat soldiers.}{\par \pard \h yphpar Nerissa was waiting for them. As Gregor's back improved. "This is your time to wait. but not much about its present.

"Many are dead.The Peacemaker}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Perfect. at least you're useful again. Well. when he had just arrived in Regalia for the second time. withdrew the key. But the peacemaker will come. He had to find out what w as going on. know about making peace? "So you think a peacemaker's coming? When?" asked Greg or. He reached do wn. and returned it to Nerissa without a word. Not the 'peacemaker."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The seconds ticked by. "And then I'll put it b ack before anyone knows it was gone. and that only made him feel more secure about his plan.' after all. So rats were definitely in the palace. "Ope n up in there! The palace is secure!" Nerissa unlocked the door to reveal Ripred . sit tight. H is anxiety grew with every passing minute. Perhaps tomorrow. They'd been us ing an empty pot by the door for a toilet and the place smelled like a sewer. the digger killer. he prob ably could but he didn't want to. As quietly as he could. A gruesome g urgling sound from the rat. "And the prophecy calls Gregor 'the war rior.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No one knows. He'd heard it be fore. but as there was no light in the hall. because Gregor didn't really feel great about stea ling the key. Wh ile Gregor waited for Nerissa to sleep." he heard Ripred from behind the door. Rats were in the palace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. he'd been walking around the palace at night and overheard Solovet and Vikus arguing over whether or not he was to be trained. Until then. Solovet had wanted him armed immediately of course. And I won't be around when whoever it is shows up. A long time ago. This was just as well. boy. Perhaps in a thousand years." said Nerissa. but everyone of significance to you still breathes. scuffling. too." He crossed to Nerissa and carefully pulled the key out of her pocket.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Something tugged at the back of Gregor's brain. He was still sore. Boots. He couldn't wrestle the key away from her.'" she had said. We need you in the war room now.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar Gregor turned and saw the others awake and looking at him in fear. Then a tremendous blow hit the door. "Borrowing the key. But I hope they do. Maybe when Nerissa fell asleep he could slip t he key from her pocket and just look out for a second.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Questions began pouring out of Gregor's mouth but Ripred cut him off. He automatic ally stepped back and pulled his blades. T here were footsteps. He figure d he might be able to fight at about seventy-five percent. What did Sandwich. and Temp were asleep . But what if he left and the prophecy room was attacked again? That door wouldn't hold long. The rats have been driven away. Blood seeping under the door. and then another blow followed by a r at claw that punctured the wood directly in front of Gregor's face. about the size of a peephole. it's not me. Gregor could see nothing. Possibly right out side the door. "I told you so. He was just about to turn it when he heard shouting. He took careful aim and d rove his sword right through the peephole." He turned to Nerissa. }{\par \pard \hyphpar By the time Nerissa had finally drifted off. When? It came to him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well." thought Gregor." said Gregor. The peacemaker. "I will send instructions for the res t of you later. causing it to reverberate. the room could really stand some fresh air. left by the rat claw. and a human cry. Who would protec t Boots and Hazard and Temp and Nerissa?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's head jerked up as the claws scraped the door. who was bloodstained but not visibly wounded. We were able to defend the city thanks to your sister's breaking the Code of Claw." he corrected himself. he could take them. he tried using his swords again. Nerissa. Had they found Lizzie? Luxa? What was going on? When would someone conta ct them? He could fight now. Silence. Just as the warrior did."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . She was nice en ough not to say. and there wasn't much room. Besides. More shouts and footsteps. but they will regroup and rally around the Bane. There was a small opening. "Now can we open that door?"}{\par \pard \hyph par Nerissa shook her head. Even if a couple of big old rats were sitting right outside the door waiting to pounce. He should be fighting. if it came to it. but he could swing his blades. Scraping. The Peacemaker. Hazard. They had fou nd him. Gregor walked to the door an d slid it in the keyhole.

If you want her to stay .}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa cocked her head slightly."} {\par \pard \hyphpar "I will send for Aurora. who are acknowledged to be powerful. Disbelief.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This is my home. as well." said Luxa." said Luxa."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "He speaks the truth." said Gregor. "With the demise of the council. "How fares your back?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good to go. screaming. She wasn't well. Sometimes it took six of t hem to carry a body. but Gregor's attention immed iately went to Luxa." he thought." said Solovet. He didn't want Luxa goi ng after the rats for a number of reasons. "We shall be leaving to pursue the gnawers shortly."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But stay you must. We're going out to finish this thing. rats. "Listen. it's Regalia we 're thinking of. She must have been in battle. You are unfit. "Lock her in the dungeon. I will remain here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred stepped between Luxa and Solovet. Trust me."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor forced himself to watch as they seized her and carried her. hurt." Gregor had to swallow hard bef ore he could get the next words out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa stared at Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He didn't sound like he was flattering her. powe r will shift to you."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am not yet of age. but n o longer trustworthy. mostly. "She's lying. Luxa.. "Yes. Of course.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why do you say this?" asked Solovet. it will be you. equ al to equal. and. Now can you see how you are too dear to risk in battle?" asked Ripred. your people will be desperate for guidance. I do see. and then rage washed in rapid suc cession over Luxa's face at his words. Luxa. But when it's over. "Do so." said Luxa. "Must I?" Gregor could feel a battle of wills com ing on and felt guilty because he was on Solovet's side. It will be you the Regalians expect to lead them. Rats overran the council room and almost none survived save your grandparents." said Solovet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Because I know her."}{\par \pard \hyp hpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 21}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet studied Luxa a moment and then gestured to a pair of guards. Not in times like these. tucking in a stray edge of her bandage . And we need you here. considering his question. Then he r emembered what he and Luxa had been doing lately. If they followed you into this war they will follow you out of it.Gregor followed Ripred through the halls where kids his age were loading dead hu mans. "You know I cannot officially lead." say Solovet. Not after the courage and brains yo u've demonstrated recently. just laying it out on the table. Your Highness. do ." said Gregor." said Solovet." he said."}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "It doesn't matter.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Excellent.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "You shouldn't have fought."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred and Solovet exchanged a pleased look and were turning back to the busines s of war when Gregor saw the ghost of a smile playing on the corners of Luxa's m outh. Then she dropped her eyes to th e ground. "They're too young to be doing that. Although her clothes were cle an she wore a fresh bandage on her forehead. "Not after what has been done to Regalia. he was different. he wanted her somewh ere safe. and it seemed like a pretty ta me job.}{\par \pard \hyph par "You cannot ask me to stay behind." said Luxa. He'd left any vestiges of childhood behind months ago. Con fine her flier.. Her cough was back. too. Hadn't he?}{\par \pard \hyphpar The war room was crowded with people and creatures. and mice on stretchers and removing them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. he didn't want her to see him die.

" said Gregor. I am practically the only coherent person in the hospi tal. he w ould have wanted him to be just like Howard. "I must get back. " He removed the stitches from Gregor's calf. And while i t was not included in her rant. about how if he'd had a big brother.}{\par \pard \hyphpar One hour? Was that all that was left? "I'll dress. And she thought things like turning the plague into a weapon and setting rats on fire were wise moves.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Because I slept for two straight days. Mir avet sent him to a nearby bathroom to bathe. He would much rather have had her condemn him. in some tunnel or cave. After he ate. last bath. "You'll keep an eye on Luxa..wn the hall. who put her life in jeopardy. man! I was supposed to wake you." said Solovet. If she still cares for Henry. As he was dressing. "It's done. But now Lux a would have Howard for a brother. " Well. and that was more important. on the other hand. and put on fresh bandages. but with time." said Gregor. And her reasons for taking his sisters were v alid."}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Gregor went to the armory.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do not trouble yourself. full o f hatred at his disloyalty. he would spend some time with it. She will always hate you for it." said Howard. "Lizzie still may have use as a co de-breaker." said Gregor. cleaned. Sorry.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. rising. So he watched until the guards turned the corner a t the end of the hall. Gregor's armor h ad been retrieved from the balcony.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They will be accompanying us." Ripred said. Boots will rally the crawlers. She was beating at the guards but her words were for Gregor. About how gratef ul he was to Howard for all he'd done. Someone who was kind and brave and not afraid to say he cared about things or to admit he'd been wrong. One rager to another. But later." Gregor thought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Somehow having Solovet's approval didn't make Gregor feel any better. Gregor felt sure that he had lost all of the aff ection she had ever felt for him. That he was as bad as Henry had been. Miravet had made some .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They'll be safe. He dislike d her so much. Gregor. He wished he could have said more. "You look a lot better.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus came up and patted his arm. food had been brought for him. last set of clothes. Rest assured." said Solovet briskly. Tell the picture of Luxa what he would never have the chance to ex plain to her in person. I want to be wit h my sisters." Solovet said. and repaired."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We shall depart from the river in one hour. then. The things she said cut right through him. Ripred sent me down to the prophecy room and I totally forgot. "She will not always hate you. Everything had a feeling of finalit y to it."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Fly you high. "Fly you high. Gregor. had only inte nsified when he betrayed her. his hand fumbled in his back pocket to make sure he still had the photograph they'd taken in the museum. on the trip. Even the sight of Lux a despising him was precious to him now." said Gregor. I shall keep them at a good distance from the battle. Then he refilled Gregor's bottle of painkiller. It was there." said Howard. Let's not talk about it ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Last time I'll see Howard. Howa rd came in to treat his wounds.. Last hot meal." Howard said. you must go to the armory t o prepare. There should be at least one. right?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "As if she were my own sister." said Gregor. He stood up and hugged him good-bye . His feelings."}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was no arguing with Solovet. She went back to study th e map on the wall. Still. Gregor hadn't even known the old man was in th e room. "Your wounds are much improved. That she should never have trusted him. Gregor. "Count on it. will she not care for you who tried to save it?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I doubt she sees it that way.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When she was gone. although he left the ones on his h ip. while the others slept." said Howard. taking her out of his life forever. He didn't pull it out. she will understand its necessity.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was a wise move.

Each human. a little girl hurried in with the pink backpack Gregor had taken on his l ast trip to the Firelands. where they would be swallowed up by the waves. water bottles. "But the pups are safe. and Temp joined ." said Ares. like there were in the Firelands. "Is that Cartesian?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He died defending the nursery. The girl gave him a shy smile and ran off. the current was still st rong enough to quickly carry the rafts away. He looked smaller. but it would have to be somewhere outside of the city. to blow it away. "Everyone of sig nificance to you still breathes." said the little girl. Stones might work. so Gregor." said Gregor. "No point in giving them nightmares. but hundreds? The air would be thick with smoke.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Yes. Ripred had said. A woman softly chanted some words Greg or couldn't catch. As far as he could see down the riv er tunnel. A group r aided the hospital. "Lot of dead." said Ares. "Hundreds have made this journey already. Although it was not as fierce as it had been before the earthquake.' It will be a big help. Others swarmed through the halls. It was d umped into the river with no ceremony.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No Bane." said Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "How did you fight the rats?" Gregor asked. duct tape. dead. his sisters.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No Bane?" asked Gregor. We waited until they were swimming and attacked from th e air. or mou se body was placed on a small raft of some kind of woven plant fiber.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "When word came of the invasion. He wanted to know what had happened while he was in the prophecy room. He has retreated toward his own land. It was very difficult for them to swim and defend themselves. if t here were only a couple. "He thought you might need it. and Boots were blindfol ded and being carried by guards. Lizzie's cookies. but they had traveled together. Then the raft was set in the river and released. There was little earth to bury them in. batteries. He went over and patted the mouse's soft fu r before they lowered his body into the water. There were no strong winds here. Lizzie. Witnessed the nibblers dying at the volcano. Gregor had seen what he wou ld call soil only in the jungle and in the farmlands." said Ripr ed. When he was suit ed up. Sent them on a lit raft down the river t o the Waterway." said Ares. He hadn't known the mouse well. You could burn the corpses. The others will find him and reg roup their army. Many were destroyed but some made it into the palace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares landed on the dock next to him. Eventually they were driven back out to river. It made sense.}{\par \pard \hyphpar So this was how they buried their dead.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It took Gregor a moment to recognize the mouse they placed on the next raft. Hazard. bat. But there were many others who Gregor cared about. The Underlanders were doing funeral rites for the dead. more vulnerable.adjustments to make it fit more comfortably over his injuries.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar The six kids he had seen earlier hauled in a stretcher with a dead rat. he found a solemn ritual going on. forgettin g about it in his worry for Luxa. the giant sea. It contained the flashlight York had returned to him." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When Gregor arrived at the dock on the river. He had tossed it somewhere in the hospital. and the travel ch essboard. Gregor thought of the grisly halls and was glad of the precaution. "Howard bid me bring you this. torches reflected off of the water.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar Ares was best suited to carrying Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor felt sadness well up in him. a nd those who could swam for safety. A torch wa s inserted in a holder at their shoulder. figh ting where they met resistance. Played hide-and -seek with Boots and the mouse pups." By that he must have meant Gregor's family and Luxa. killing the patients. but they ha d great numbers. Who knew if they were alive or dead?}{\par \pard \hyphpar The rest of the traveling party arrived. the gnawers were just entering the water from t he tunnel north of here."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Tell him 'thanks.

too. and there were several mice traveling as well." He turned to Nike. Bu t soon we will attack them on the Plain of Tartarus." said Vikus.'}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "We are both Pincesses." said Nike."}{\par \pard \hyphpar By the time they broke for a rest at the mouth of a tunnel. Pincess. "Good to see you." said Nike. "The rats will believe they are safe for the moment." said Vikus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor pulled the blindfold down over her eyes. Even that one good-bye with Howard had drained him. And there we re still more painful ones in the hours ahead."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What sort of information will you give the rats?" Gregor asked. their party was some what diminished.well. All of the nibbler code transmitters and their guards had left them. Pincess. The diggers have cr eated paths to our arena and possibly elsewhere."}{\par \pard \hyphpar As they lifted off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "When they are asleep. The soldiers had stopped at a landing a few miles back. I do not think we can hold the city." said Vikus." Boots said with a laugh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not these. they will take these things as truth."}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "A surprise attack. "Stay in there. that no force can be assembled to follow them. Reflex and Heronian climbed on her back. If you battle bef ore then. "Are the mice coming to fig ht?" Gregor asked Vikus. where they now gather.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They flew down the tunnel and out over the Waterway. We will disable a rat who transmits the code. Gregor realized there were so many friends he hadn't said go od-bye to. The rats are still receiving informatio n from their spies in the area. We will tell them that our losses are higher than expected. Nerissa. Gregor saw a group of sold iers and a nibbler peel off and disappear into the dark. do not forget that your weakness is your left side. you." said Vikus. "It is our b est hope.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "I will rejoin you in two days' time on the Plain of Tartarus. forget Aurora. and probably cursing him. to o. We destroyed the ones we could find but who knows how many exist? If the Bane lives and the rats attack again. replace it with a nibbler. and feed false information to the rats." said Gregor. Dulcet." said Solovet. About fifty soldiers on fliers joined them. "Daedalus and Min remain here. It twinkled with the flames of the torches on the rafts of the dead. Euripedes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Greetings. Solovet had not be en on the ground more than five minutes when she announced she was going off. Solovet was beside them on her bat. "Since the rats do not know we have broken the Code of Claw. she was locked in the dungeon with Luxa. They have a special purpose. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Greetings. Ajax."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Isn't their job done now?" asked Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Where?" asked Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There's still plenty of information to decipher. "And the code co uld unexpectedly change. He turned around and sa w her peeking at Nike from under her blindfold.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The spinners are still conflicted about whom they choose to side with. Maybe it wa s just as well.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "Lies. You coming with us?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am carrying some of the code team. that you have died due to injuries inflicted b y the Bane."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's why Ripred wanted to keep it a secret. Mareth. lifting her black-and-white-striped wings. Aurora \uc2\u8212-.Vikus on his big gray bat. Regalia still teeters on the brink of destruction. with no plan for counterattack. We have chosen four lines of communication to sa botage. He thought his friends would unde rstand.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There goes the first team now."}{\par \pard \hyph par . They req uire my personal guarantee of their safety when the war ends." Gregor heard Boots say behind him." said Gregor." Ripred said. The difference between losing and winni ng the war.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "It is the most powerful weapon we have.

Reflex.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We just intercepted a message. Maybe he could use a break from those maps. It felt good to use his muscles. They mean to ambush and kill her. Their loyalties are very divided. But whe n Gregor reached the mouth of the tunnel. as if trying to convince himself. "There must be something we can do."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That was simple to explain. "We can sit here and wait. fifty s oldiers with us and\uc2\u8212--" Gregor began.. and Hazard were playing one of their games in Crawler. Ares and me. This is entirely different. we had only to send some scouts up the river and pretend to discover them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How do they know?" Gregor asked. All of the lies we are planting will be suspect. "That wouldn't be suspicious. flanking her on their bats. The rats know of Solo vet's trip to the spinners . but his skin had a strange gray cast."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What?" asked Gregor." said Ri pred. Gregor!" Lizzie said. Horatio and Marcus. anyway. I don't even like Solovet. We must. and Heronian were busy decoding me ssages that came in on bats. It was just like her to up and go with nothing more than a combat tip. One of the spinners must have leaked the information. If th ey find that out. Lizzie. "Not at this pr ice. maybe we could make it look like we were just going a fter her.And then she took off on Ajax with Gregor's old bodyguards. I don't know what's going on.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You have to. He went deeper into the tunnel and practiced with his sword and dagger. All of the activity had stopped." Gregor suggested. boy. "Did they spot us?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. but he didn't think he woul d even notice it in battle."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Wouldn't it? If she had wanted to travel with an army she would have traveled w ith an army. Temp. He decided to try to get Ripred t o spar with him for a while. he added in his echolocation. like."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But. He looked calm. poring over maps. And they will issue a new code immediately that may take weeks to break." said Vikus. perhaps the queen herself."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There is.. no one was doing anything." Ripred said. You're just letting her fly to her death?" s aid Gregor. Ares." said R ipred." said Vikus. We've got.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It turned out they were making camp for a while..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was still not quite ready to accept this." said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She would not want us to try to save her. It was very freeing not to be consta ntly worried about his batteries running out. maybe we could . Boots. One showing up at the eleventh hour will point directly to the brea king of the Code of Claw." Vikus said hoarsely.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. but I'm not going to just sit here and let her die!" said Gregor. Perhaps a lowly soldi er. and the two remaining guards and their bats took turns patrolling the area. We are.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Okay. They were so close.}{\par \pard \hyphpar After about a half hour he was good and loose. because they will instantly change their rendezvous point. His back was still sore.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What's going on?" asked Gregor. "Don't you see? If we rescue her they'll kno w we've broken the code.." said Ripred." said Ripred. running through the tunnel in darkness and the n striking points on the walls and ceiling. there will be no surprise attack. I mean.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But you found out about the rats attacking from the river and you acted on that . We can't.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was left to his own devices. Nike.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The only way we could have read the message is if we had broken the code. When he was warmed up." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But she's got next to zero backup. Ripred and Vikus had their head s together. We can overtake them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We'll go after her.

and Ripred's war ning that she would never let his family go? In a way if she died it would proba bly be easier for Ripred to get his family home. Howard was. He fingered the hilt guiltily. He hoped whoever broke the news to Luxa would mention that. But he must have loved her. there had been moments al ong the way when she had treated him decently enough." Why not? They were on bats and were excellent soldiers. slipping his hand into his grandfath er's. if what -they had sa id about Luxa being in power after the war was true. who didn't really know what was going on. thinking of how she was unde r attack without it. He didn't.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor tried to think of something consoling to say to Vikus.they'd probably been married for. When? During a war between the humans and the rats? During a sparring match they'd had for fun? Gregor thought about how Solovet had left all kinds of scars. Boots. Vik us had been crushed. no matter what her grandmother said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Maybe they missed them. and now he knew that if she hadn't he would be dead. on the Underlanders ' frail attempts at peace.}{\par \pard \hyphpar After a couple of hours. but all of the words he came up with se emed trite and empty. No.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Yes. Vik us for working things out. He wished he hadn't said that thing about not liking Solovet. and Horatio were able to hold their own and escape. Wouldn't she? He was g lad he still had Ripred's promise as a backup. They couldn't afford to be idle no matter what the circumstances."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred ran a paw over the diagonal scar on his face."}{\par \pard \hyphpar So Solovet had given Ripred that scar. taking his hands in a gesture of welcome that had felt genuine.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Solovet. Hazard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred turned to Vikus." thought Gregor. She had protected him by insisting he be trained. Temp and Hazard resumed their discussion in w hispers." Gregor said. But whenever Gregor sneaked a glance at Vikus' s ashen face. Ripred.{\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 22}}{\par \pard \hyphpar So Gregor sat and waited as the seconds went by. Gregor was sure she would s end his family home. How could he after her i nvolvement with the plague and her throwing him in the dungeon. When he'd landed in Regali a she'd been the first person to reach out and touch him. "That's the way she always said she wanted to go. though. Not on some sickbed but with her sword in her hand. fell asleep on a pile of blankets. forty years or something \uc2\u8212-. Maybe she wouldn't hate him quite so much. I don't t hink she cared for me. he could not pretend he liked her.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Hazard came over and kneeled next to Vikus. "You okay ?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. When he discovered his wife's role in the plague. Still. fighting. because he was utterly stricken now. Of course. but with slow deliberate ones that had lon g silences between them. Their ideas on how to handle problems were totally different: Solovet calling for force. Heronian said quietly. I have this to remem ber her by. But Gregor. Not with the urgent ticks he ha d heard so often since the war began." said Ripred . It was even more difficult because while he knew Vikus mus t have loved Solovet \uc2\u8212-. All thre e humans and their fliers were killed in the ambush. He could manage that. and Vikus seemed suspended in time as they waited f or word of the ambush. At least he had tried to go after her. Luxa was. Vikus gave it a squeeze but didn't say anything. In truth. like."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Fighting. And she'd given him her own dagger.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sorry about your grandma. Perhaps it was because she and my father hated each other . Solovet rarely spoke to me." Vikus's lips formed the word but no sound came out. "We have received word. "Well. despite his feelings for her. Mar cus. but he was never g ood at this stuff. he felt that this would not be the case.he also knew they had fought a lot.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The code team continued decrypting messages. I do not know how to feel. "Or there was a fight and Solovet. on her family. on rats.

I want you. He got a strip of code and asked Lizzie for a marker. anyway. dumped something down his throat. You just became the acting head of your army.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The cave seemed very vacant without Solovet and Vikus.the tragedy at the Garden of Hesperides.} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Now I need a human who can command. Vikus is disabled. I don't know." said Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "People recover from strokes. "Get a doctor in here!". but their effect on Vikus was immediat e and devastating. no.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Is he going to be okay?" asked Gregor. Right?" Gregor asked. This last year has been murder on him. In less than a minute a doctor had flown in. It was scary to see him like that.}{\par \pard \hyph par "Goodness. taken one look at Vikus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Some do." said the doctor. leaving Gregor to deal wi th the double tragedy on his own. Now you go bac k and.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "A stroke. they would know it was broken.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We will do all we can. pushing his nose right up into his face. Half of Vikus's face had gone slack and Gregor realized he couldn't move it. "I need someone we can all trust. "There are others with more seniorit y. "I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. She was writing wi th a quill and ink. If he didn't. She dug a red one out of her backpack.so much. He sent for Perdita. His hand went toward his cheek. Mareth's back in Regalia. He didn't seem to want to continue the conver sation. With time. Ha zard obeyed. His voice sounded almost as young as Haz ard's. "Vikus? You all right there?" Ripred asked. All of the awful family history between h is wife and his son \uc2\u8212-. lo sing Hamnet not once but twice. urgi ng him to stay calm. "You might get a few more letters out of this one. If you get the tip wet.." she said. okay?" said Ripred. Although Vikus migh t recover. and had him loaded onto a bat." said Hazard with his usual frankness. "Probably n ot the best time to have brought up all that business with Hamnet." said Ripred. It would have happened with or without your words. "Now what?" said Gregor. But he would have been thinking about it. He couldn't stand that being the last thing betwee n them."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Was it what I said? About my father?" Hazard asked worriedly.Gregor's thoughts turned to Luxa again." said Ripred.." said Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor spat in the cap of the marker. and let it sit a minute. but it was no good.. Solovet and Hamnet. see if you can't help with the code.. the anger that passed between them in the jungle. but if the rats intercepted it. "Doctor!" Ri pred called at once. Hamnet 's mad flight from Regalia. First Solovet." said the doctor.. When he was out of earshot.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The words were simple and without malice. then Vikus. he got right to the point. He didn't want to lose the one Underlander whom he knew had always had his best in terest at heart." Ripred began to go over the battle plan with Perdita. We must get him back to Regalia. Gregor didn't want Vikus to leave him. and the bat took off."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Perdita looked shocked and then conflicted.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar Hazard hung on the doctor's sleeve. Vikus tried to answ er but the words that came out of his mouth were thick and garbled. He slipped the photo of them in the museum from his pocket and tried to think of happier times . He kept visualizing her face at the moment he had told the m to lock her in the dungeon. He wou ld have to make his note short. He thought about writing it in the Code of Claw. though.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred continued to talk to Vikus."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't want them. then f ell to his side. "What's wrong with my grandfather?"}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "He is having an attack. When she arrived. "Solovet's dea d. closed it. He settled on us . Ripred whispered to Gregor. "The markers all dried out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus made a strange sound in his throat.

ing the marks from the Tree of Transmission. That would make it seem a little mo re private somehow. After a couple of minutes he opened the marker and tested it . The results were faint but legible. He wrote:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b LUXA}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b /} \ |// \ / \ / | | | /. | \ {\b / // /|.|// |} / | \. {\b |} / / {\i {\b |}} | \. {\b /} / {\b /} \. {\b |} | {\b / | /} \ . / | | {\b //.}{\b |} \ / / | | \ \ \.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Go ahead," he thought. "Write it. You'll be dead before she even reads it. And anyway, it's true."}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b /. |\} / | / / {\i {\b |}} | {\b \} \ \. | | | / {\b |} / / / /.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b GREGOR}}{\par \pard \hyphpar The last few words were too hard to read. Gregor nicked his index finger on his sword and wrote over them with a thin, smeary line of blood. There.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It wasn't much of a letter. He felt stingy using just thirteen words. But even i f he'd had boxes of markers, what more would he have said? Maybe explained bette r why one of them had to live. So both of them could. So one of them would remem ber the other as they went through life. That it wasn't going to be him, so it h ad to be her. And he had to be able to think of her growing up and doing things and someday being happy if he was going to be brave enough for his last moments with the Bane. Luxa was smart. She'd figure out what he meant. He hoped.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor rolled up the message and gave it to Lizzie to deliver to Luxa in Regalia .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why don't you give it to her yourself?" asked Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Because she's really mad at me right now," said Gregor. "She'll read it, though , if she thinks it's from you. Besides, you'll probably go back before I do." Li zzie agreed to take it. Gregor wondered if Lizzie would hate him, too, when she found out he'd been lying to her all along about the prophecy.}{\par \pard \hyph par Gregor announced he was going to practice some more and went back into the tunne l. Then he just lay down on the stone floor with his head propped against a rock . He didn't feel like sword fighting, so he turned off his flashlight and clicke d. His echolocation ability was improving by leaps and bounds. He could see so m uch \uc2\u8212-- the jagged edges of the ceiling, individual pebbles on the floo r, even small details in the rough surface of the walls. He experimented using d ifferent sounds \uc2\u8212-- coughing, humming, whistling. In a quiet moment, he realized that even the sound of his own breathing could send images back to him . He felt comforted, because that meant as long as he was alive he would be able to see.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His heart rate slowed and he dozed, slipping in and out of sleep, alternating be tween dreams and images of the tunnel. Fear crept into his dreams. He was lying helplessly on his back, when a rat appeared over him, then another, then he was surrounded by their faces. Gregor shook his head to awaken only to find he hadn'

t truly been asleep. The rats were still looming over him, and they were real.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar Without even attempting to rise, Gregor yanked his sword from his belt and slice d the air over his body to protect it. The rats fell back, giving him a chance t o spring to his feet. By this time his dagger was out and he was about to start killing, when the voice reached his brain: "Stop, Overlander!"}{\par \pard \hyph par Gregor hesitated. He knew the rat's voice. It was higher-pitched than Ripred's r ough growl. Female. But not Twirltongue's silver tones that had so easily led hi m astray. Twitchtip? No, she was dead. And this voice didn't belong on his voyag e across the Waterway, or in the impossible twists and turns of the rat's maze. It came with memories of jungle heat and sweat and the smell of sweet deadly blo ssoms. He clicked and tried to focus in on the speaker. "Lapblood?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes, it's me. Put away your sword. We're not here to fight you," said Lapblood. }{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor clicked again. The small pack of rats was hanging back, none of them in a ttack position. He slowly slid his blades back in his belt. Rat or no rat, he di dn't think Lapblood would lie to him. Not after what they had been through toget her. Besides, if the rats had been after his blood, they'd have taken him on the ground. "What are you doing here?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We've come to join with Ripred against the Bane," said Lapblood. "I'm supposed to meet him now for our battle orders."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "For real? How many of you are there?" said Gregor. Echolocation was great, but he wanted to use his eyes again. He snapped on his flashlight, causing the rats to squint in the sudden brightness. "Sorry." He pointed the beam to the floor.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "There are a dozen of us here in the tunnel. But hundreds wait in the caves belo w," said Lapblood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hundreds?" Gregor said. He knew Ripred had a small band of rats loyal to him in the Dead Land, but where had hundreds come from?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Did you think every rat wanted the Bane for their leader?" asked Lapblood. "Tha t we would willingly live under his rule?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Pretty much," admitted Gregor. "I mean, except for Ripred, we haven't seen a wh ole lot of resistance from you guys."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well, you're wrong," retorted Lapblood. "Many of us have no use for that bloodt hirsty, twisted creature or the connivance of those who guide him."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That's good to hear," said Gregor. He noticed two smaller rats crouched at Lapb lood's side. They were too big to be called pups, but they weren't fully grown, either. "Are they ...?" He didn't want to say the names in case he was wrong. "W ho are they?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Flyfur and Sixclaw. My children," said Lapblood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The children she had gone to the jungle to save by finding the cure to the plagu e. Mange's children, too, then, although he had never lived to see them again. H e'd been ensnared and eaten by giant carnivorous plants. But his pups had lived. Gregor peered closely at them. They stared back, scared but tough. "You look a lot like your dad," he said, and was surprised by the emotion in his voice, by h ow moved and glad he was that they'd survived.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And your mother?" asked Lapblood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It seemed like an eternity since anyone had asked him that. People avoided the t opic of his mother's health in general, as if bringing it up was just a painful reminder of her sickness. But Lapblood knew better. "She's okay, I think. I mean , she was real sick from the plague, but she got better. Only last time I saw he r she had pneumonia and they evacuated her to the Fount. It turned out to be a g ood thing, because the hospital at Regalia was so packed, but I haven't had any news of her since. Ripred says he'll get her home for me. After the war. Since I can't. Ripred says he will." Gregor realized he was babbling and pulled himself together. "Thanks for asking."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had a sudden impulse to touch Lapblood, to place his hand on her head and

feel that silky fur again. But he knew that would seem weird, if not downright threatening, to the other rats. So he just headed up the tunnel. "Come on. Ripre d's up here."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lapblood followed him while the rest of the rats remained deep in the tunnel. Th is was just as well. Gregor was afraid the arrival of even one rat might start a panic attack in Lizzie. But she took her cue from Ripred, and he was pleased to see Lapblood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. You made it. How many do we have?" he asked her right off.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "At least seven hundred. Perhaps as many as a thousand," said Lapblood.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Ripred raised his eyebrows, a bit impressed. "That many? You've been busy."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "Where do you want us?" asked Lapblood. Ripred quickly gave her a time, position , and instructions. She nodded, turned to Gregor, and said, "Thank you for what you did in the jungle."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had saved her life, but Lapblood had saved Boots. "You, too."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Lapblood touched her muzzle to his wrist, then she was gone.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Just another good-bye," thought Gregor. Another last time. But it was nothing c ompared to the ones he would have to face in the next couple of days.}{\par \par d \hyphpar Ripred ordered them all to bed. Gregor's slumber was deep and dreamless. He was awakened by Ripred's nose nudging his shoulder. Gregor rubbed his eyes and looke d around. No one else was up. "Over here," the rat whispered, and Gregor followe d him to the far end of the cave. "This is the day," Ripred said.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "The day I die," Gregor thought. But he only said, "So soon?"}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "Yes. We have to move fast. But there's something I want to say to you in privat e," said Ripred. "It's regarding a certain line in 'The Prophecy of Time.'"}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar The warrior's death. "Here it comes," thought Gregor. He braced himself for the good-bye, but the rat's next words were something entirely unexpected.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "The thing is ..." said Ripred. He glanced around to make sure everyone else was still sleeping. "The thing is, I don't believe in Sandwich's prophecies."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 23}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor was floored. "What? But you ... always do what they say."}{\par \pard \hy phpar "No, I don't. If I really believed in them, would I have run after the Bane and tried to kill him myself? It would have been pointless. I pretend like I believe in them, even try to convince myself I do for short periods, because everybody else down here does. So if you want to make them do something, it has to fit the prophecies, you see?" said the rat.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not really," said Gregor. What was Ripred saying?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Look, there are hundreds of prophecies predicting all kinds of things. If you w ait around long enough, numerous events that resemble each and every one of them are bound to come up. Take that plague. We've had loads of plagues down here. M ight have been interpreted to fit any of them," said Ripred.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "But you're always trying to interpret them," Gregor said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar " {\i I} have to. If I don't come up with some reasonable interpretation of them first

you're not going to die. But Ripred's words had giv en him something he'd abandoned since he'd first read "The Prophecy of Time. you were all ready to start digging your graves. But he didn't think so. and how he had always been so sarcastic about Nerissa's ability to see the future."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I admit that one's hard to explain. Gregor tried hard to think of one incident that could not be contested. That Sandwich was wrong. It's going to be a long day. Even used the warrior's d eath to get Gregor to let Lizzie stay.. " said Ripred. someone else comes up with a foolish one. Could it be possible? No. One rager to another. And maybe \uc2\u8212-. Unless Hamnet sought out a hisser because o f her suggestion and then didn't say no when Hazard's mother appeared in his lif e. Hardly ever smiled even. If everyone finds out what I really believe. and pretended to go back to sleep thr ee times to get more wake-up raspberries. And don't you let yo ur guard down for a second because you think anything's inevitable!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's head was spinning with this new way of thinking.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "I seem like me again?" Gregor asked. if we can swap princesses so easily. A code? Every new war has a new cod e."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Not going to die? The words hit Gregor like a truck. "'The Prophecy of Time ." said Ripred. Not that Ripred didn't use the prophecies to his adva ntage. Gregor the Overlander. I think you can beat the Bane. Not just why he had tried to kill the Bane himself but how easily he had tossed out Boot s for Lizzie. and it's him we're talking about. That he might live."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No such luck." Ho pe. Then he knew what she meant. They do happen. "Stop! I need more sleeping!" she said. she told Hamnet he would be in the jungle with a h isser and a kid ten years later. Anyway. When it was gone. Come on. That they were really fulfilling Sandwich's prophecies on their own. I think you're better than he is. "I thought you were going to tell me goodbye. And we kept thinking. He would prove it to Ripred. Probably didn't want her coming up with a whole new room of pro phecies to control people. And we found the cure." Gregor protested. "And then it's a whole lot of extra work changing everyone's minds."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor went over and blew raspberries on Boots's stomach. He had manipulated Gregor repeatedly with them. "What about the warrior stuff? And me leaping?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Maybe you only leaped because that prophecy suggested that was the thing to do." said Ripred. "But. He hadn't rea lly teased Boots in a while.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I really thought Neveeve might have been right about the starshade being the cu re. But the rat was always doing whatever it took to get his way. I'll lose what little credibility I have.. Maybe Sandwich was a madman who locked himself up and wrote crazy poems on the wall. The death of a warrior? Well. The idea that we might have misinterpreted the prophecy was the only way to get you movin g. "Maybe that children's song about killing the mice really only wa s a children's song." said Ripred. Boots poked him in the chest." snorted Ripred. He gave an incredulous laugh. e veryone knew he was going to die. I jumped on it. Basing decisions on what his word s said. Nerissa is not Sandwich. l et's wake up the others.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor frowned. "But keep this under your hat. As Gregor hauled her over to eat break fast.' Look how easily we bent it to replace Boots with Lizzie. The alternative was to let everyone sit there boo-hooing until they died. And I don't think any mumbo jumbo of Sandwich's can change th at. why not wa rriors ? Thousands will be dead at the end of this mess." she said..}{\par \pard \hyphpar . Ripred's not believing in the prophecies explained certain things. Unless you let it. So you fight. so she woke up gigglin g. Or it could be a strange coincidence."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What about in the jungle? After the ants destroyed the starshade and we had all given up. What does it really call for? A war? We have those all the time. But I'm not convinced y ou will be. "You seem like you again. how about Nerissa ? When she was a little girl.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He wondered if the rat was lying to make him fight his best.

And I'm fighting him because he killed all of those innocent mi ce and people."} {\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. Beyond it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Wow. So don't let them see you until the Bane appears. and her eyes w idened in surprise." said Lizzie. Not because Sandwich says so but because I say so. Gregor sensed emptiness. He's going to be real jealous. O rdinarily Gregor would have been more concerned with them catching his scent." Gregor whispered in her ear. soaking . which he remembered from his first journey. His mind registered a cavern so vast he could not find the other end of it."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "For keeps?" asked Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I am good. The i mages were not quite as clear but they were continuous. Ever since he had learned about how he had murdered the diggers for the land that was now Regalia." said Boots.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Won't you need the flashlight in battle?" Lizzie asked with concern. you two. sleeping. Not just because they forecast his death but because he loathed Sandwi ch. when Ripred had dragged them all through dripping caves.Gregor realized something else.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "I cracked that echolocation thing." he tho ught. Then it was time to go. the floor was occup ied by the single largest gathering of rats Gregor had ever encountered. since he was either inha ling or exhaling as a matter of course. In about an hour they had reached their destination. still wrapped in foil. he let out a d eep breath. While clicks and coughs produced brighter results.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All right. Hanging his head over. Cormaci's oatmeal rais in cookies. nursing their wounds." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I know." Gregor said. but not a magnetic one. even tucking two cookies in Gregor's pocket so that he and Ares could have a snack later. Gregor pulled both of his sisters into his arms and held them tight.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "See you soon. It's yours. And I can do it. "All for me?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. either. There m ust have been well over a thousand. He fixed up the pink backpack." they both echoed. To di scredit him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar So Gregor was able to get through the moment he had dreaded above all others: sa ying good-bye to his sisters. the more distinct his surroundings became." said Gregor." said Gregor. And the longer he relied on the breathin g. "Remember. Now Ripred had given him a way. and gave i t to them to keep. Will you teach me?" she asked." He pulled out the travel chessboard. He dismounte d cautiously and made his way to the wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Run like the river.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boots tried to poke her nose in the backpack." said Gregor. And Ripred's right. "Jedidiah has a chessboard. they think you're dead. and I have to stop him. Far below him." said Gregor. The walls sloped up at a steep angle. "You get the cookies. Ripred. And then Ares took off.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred had already given Ares directions to their position at the Plain of Tarta rus. He dug out the rest of Mrs. To reject his guidance. "It's just me and the Bane. I love you. you'd better share at least one with Ripred. okay?"}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "Okay. he concentrated on using his breathing to see. Gregor. Ares landed on the floor of a small tunnel just before a wall made of a pile of large rocks. "Where's my present?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Your present?" asked Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You bet. too."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh!" said Boots. Fly you high. "You guys be good. See you soon. "And look here.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "I found it in the museum. Bu t the air was heavy with the smell of rotten eggs. They flew thr ough the darkness that was no longer darkness to Gregor.}{\par \pard \h yphpar Boots shared with everyone. Gregor had wanted to distance himself from the man. refilling the water bottles and putting fresh batteries in his one remaining flashlight. He didn't want to believe in the prophecies . fidgeting. I'm better than the Bane." said Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Got it.

Ares. Then it occurred to him that he was not alone.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It has begun. And we blame ourselves for not realizing it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I would say it is one of my few talents. and it might be important for Ares to know Ripred's thoughts as well . You and me.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey." said Ares . Were there other Underlanders who had the ir doubts?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Because everyone treats his words with such reverence. "Using him as an excuse to kill one another. Even at this distance." said Gregor. He thinks Sandwich was a crazy fool. "Do you know." said G regor. He must be nearby.them in sulfurous liquid to conceal their natural odor." said Ares. really? Not a kind or wise man. it's cool. it seemed like it was coming true. we're the ones holding the swords. Ripred had probably sent in soldi .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? What is it?" asked Gregor. At first.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They settled themselves down to wait. was that you decided to save my life. he was glad the last taste in his mouth came from Mr s." Ares said. You can see it?" the bat whispered back. and the scene in front of him exploded. and that we're all running around trying to make what he said come true." said G regor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So this is the Plain of Tartarus?" Gregor whispered to Ares.. "I have t o admit. The r ipple he'd felt came from the beating of a thousand wings as a wave of humans fl ew through the darkness toward the rats. You see the Bane anywhere?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. But who was he. When they were over the rats. Ares was silent for a while.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ripred doesn't believe in the prophecies. as things happened.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They rose and looked out over the rock wall.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Suddenly Ares lifted his chin.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I was not thinking of Sandwich's words. His words are full of doom and only terrorize us into ki lling one another. He crunched down on his cookie. Ripred finally knocked echolocation into my head. This time. The n. his ears twitching. Then a fai nt ripple of air hit his cheek. But he was no longer so resigned to dying. we always say it was not yet its time.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "Yes." agreed Ares." said Ares. At the end of the day. the smell see med to be coming from a mist that rose out of a foul river winding its way along the side of the cavern." said Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You know. I didn't believe in his stuff at all. Cormaci's kitchen. he was only half of a team. Gregor passed Ares a cookie and ate the ot her.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar It was a well-coordinated attack and unlike anything Gregor had ever seen. when a prophecy does not fu lfill itself in a coherent manner. can you keep a secret?" said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Sure there are. they releas ed their cargo. "I would be a liar if I said similar thought s had not crossed my own mind. I was thinking of what was right." said the bat. He is the reason they have come here." said Gr egor. we could make up better words in our sleep. Not after what Ripred had said. Gregor could detect nothi ng new. So maybe the only really remarkable thing that happened that d ay . The packages exploded into small bonfires when they hit the grou nd.' That whole thing about me leaping and then Henry dying. But what if we did jus t make Sandwich's words fit? Take 'The Prophecy of Gray."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There must be better words to follow. I could have died and the prophecy would have still made sense. only the army of rats sleeping fitfully in the gaping cavern.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The rats' warning system was not working well." said Gregor. They must have had plenty of fuel because they continued to burn brightly af ter they landed."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm beginning to think the main thing we ought to be blaming ourselves for is l etting Sandwich boss us around instead of doing what we think is right. If he did end up dead. though. The bats were carrying large unfamiliar packages of some sort in their claws.. Gregor was pretty sure that ther e was nothing alive in that water. when I first got down here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why didn't you say so?" asked Gregor.

The battl e soon lost any sense of organization and deteriorated into a killing frenzy. About twenty yards abov e her. It was flashing in a pattern that Gregor reco gnized.?}{\par \pard \hyph par And then Gregor saw something that stopped his heart.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Awaking under these conditions.. es sentially cutting off any possibility of retreat. from their perch high above. half-sliding down toward Ni ke. a chess match.dot-dot-do t-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot.. In the distance. and whiz back up their silk lines before th eir victims knew what had hit them. until those who still survived wer e fighting on a carpet of corpses. A human ran a sword through a nibbler. "My sisters! My sisters are in . SOS. It seemed unreal. cockroach.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor unglued his eyes from the battle and scanned the wall above the river. Played on the bedroom wall. sink thei r poisonous fangs into their bodies.who had ap parently decided to join with the humans \uc2\u8212-.}{\par \pard \hyphpar At the same time. This couldn't really be happeni ng. torchbearers had lit the area sufficiently so that Grego r didn't need to use echolocation to see the hell unfolding below him. where were h is sisters? Stuck somewhere with only Temp. and Heronian for pro tection? And why didn't she just fly off? She wasn't big enough to be taking on that rat without a human teammate. Fighters had to be wary even of their allies. oth ers had already received mortal wounds.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What's she doing here?" asked Gregor.began to drop from the cei ling." he whispered. Reflex. The mice and cockroaches targeted wounded rats. Cockroaches a nd mice were pouring in from the left and right. so that the ir allies could distinguish them from the enemy.. a digger's claws were widening a fresh hole in the steep wall. SOS. Human. Gregor had a hard time making sense of the pi cture. bat. every second. something phosphorous maybe. They had dipped their tails in some kind of glow-in-the-dark coating. they pulled themselves together and fought back. and after the initial shock. A game from which everyone could have gone home alive. What was she \uc2\u8212-. SOS. but the smaller creatures were inflicting a lot of da mage.. dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot. By the time the ground fires died down. as if he were watching a movie on television and he cou ld make it stop by clicking to the next channel. Ev erywhere. mouse. Remote and safe for the moment. And then Lapblood's rats appeared from the tunnels behind the rat army. So the rats were still sle eping when the firebombs were dropped. a roll of the dice. a torchbearer set a spinner on fire.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar Silently. Who would do something like this? Why would they do it? What could they possibly accomplish? They were killing. Gregor and Ares watched.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Lizzie.. far from the battle as Solovet had promised. too. the Bane's army panicked. the flashlight signaling..Gregor couldn't tell which \uc2\u8212-as she fended off a rat on the shelf of rock before her. Panic and confusion reigned. But the Bane's rats were hardened soldiers.ers to kill their scouts ahead of time. The clear purpos e that had taken the soldiers into the battle was becoming muddied in the turmoi l. killing one another and then at the end they would have diminished one a nother's ranks but.. tapped out with a fork on the kitchen table. b ut they had not been enough to rouse the Bane's army. A thin beam of light shini ng out of the opening behind Nike. rat. other adversaries were attacking from all sides. The spiders would drop suddenly on unsuspecting rats. Some were on fire. k illing. The human/bat teams and the rats carried the bulk of the fighting. a rat blind ed a rat on the same side. what would have changed? The whole thing suddenly seemed l ike a ridiculous game that could easily have been replaced by another game. Hazard. they found Nike's black-and-white-striped wings fluttering in the mouth of a cave or tunnel \uc2\u8212-. and spider bodies accumulated on the ground. a ha nd of cards. Then he began to scream. swarming them and fin ishing them off. creatures were dying. Spiders \uc2\u8212-. If Nike was here. Gregor had heard a few cries of alarm. and the swords and claws began to assault them. She was supposed to be with Boots and Liz zie. A stream o f rats was emerging from the hole and half-climbing. this waste of precious life. this carnage..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor! There! Above the river!" Ares said.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar The Bane came crashing across the plain toward them as the other creatures despe . we can attack the rats from behind!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nike fell back out of sight as the rats from the digger's hole began to rain dow n onto the shelf of rock and lunge in after her. H e wasn't going to.that hi s appearance was a huge shocker for the rats. And he wasn't going to make it.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar "We must have more space!" said Ares. but that seemed of lit tle importance now. who began to howl his name the sec ond he and Ares left the cover of the rocks. "All right!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares swiftly flew back toward the heart of the battle. right in his face.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares had to arch back and crack Gregor in the face with his head to get his atte ntion. At least twenty had made it whe n Ripred reached them. He hardly noticed \uc2\u8212-.or cared \uc2\u8212-. Now he had a far more urgent mission. Because wherever Gregor was now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But my sisters \uc2\u8212--!" Gregor began. he raced over the backs of the ene my rats and was swallowed by the darkness beyond. But the real change was the look in the whi te rat's eyes. "It's Ripred!" he told Ares. Every stroke of his blade was a d eath stroke. because he moved unsteadil y. But one could. so deeply terrified for Boots and Lizzie that he could not contain himself.}{\par \pard \hyphpar To Gregor. The one Gregor would have chosen. "Go!" he shouted. They needed room to maneuver.there!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 24}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor vaulted onto Ares's back. oblivious to all else. it seemed as if the Bane had materialized out of nowhere. if the white rat even sh owed up. One glance told Gregor he had crossed over the line from damaged to demented. "I have to kill those rats!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Try this one!" Ares said. He would deal with the Bane later. He had flown on Ares enough now to gauge the amount of time i t would take him to travel a certain distance. as if he had simply sprung out of t he ground to exact his revenge. but he did remind Gregor: "They will know now! That you stil l have life!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred had told Gregor to lie low until the Bane arrived. Ares veered sharply to the side just as one of t he powerful clawed paws whistled by Gregor's ear and then scraped down the side of the cavern. They couldn't fight the Bane trapped up ag ainst this wall. His sisters would be torn to piece s and \uc2\u8212--}{\par \pard \hyphpar Suddenly he saw a form streaking up the side of the cavern wall toward Nike. The bat swung around and there was the Bane. the Bane was a roy al mess! He was scarred and hurting from their last encounter. But Gregor had a few moments to assess his opponent. The rats w ould beat them. "If he gets in. and they were too far. The stump of his tail was capped with a huge ball of bloody spider silk. almost as if he were intoxicated. Nike could not fend them off. Boy.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor ignored them. who had been absorbed in the fight to save his sisters. But he was so afraid. so was the Bane. Then he knew he had to let them go. He hacked and sliced and plunged h is blade into rat after rat. unleashing a magnified sound like nails on a chalkboard. "Go!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares didn't object. To trust Ripred and the humans and bats who had flown in to save them. It was like old times for Gregor. every movement designed to kill. Losing the tail seemed t o have done something to the Bane's sense of balance. Not stopping to fight. like when he had first become a rager and the adrenaline rush had obliterated h is awareness of his actions. "Gregor!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What?" Gregor snarled back. Gregor and Ares dove in and threw themselves into the battle. It didn't seem possible that any creature could scale such a steep incline with suc h speed. Seconds later. "Get in there. Ares!" His bat was drawing him away. drawing the Bane after th em.

The tunnel led into a rocky cavern that soared hi gh into the air." Ares replied. gasping for air. "Are you. onto a pile of boulders. bouncing off the walls." Gregor said to Ares.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. }{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares shot down the tunnel. "Because from up here. Ares flew up higher but the Bane followed.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "Alone at last.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was all Gregor could do not to take her out right then and there. "She was not with him on the Plain of Tartarus. Pearlpelt?"}{\par \pard \hyp hpar The name distracted the Bane from his tail. bellowing in rage and pain as he struggled t oward them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Take it. He was able to land for a minute and rest.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As the Bane took one last giant leap onto the plateau. roaring. not a wound on her anywhere. And still Ares flew higher." said Gregor. Seeing much action? Or you just sending the Bane in to lose his tail and such?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My tail? My tail?" said the Bane. and the Bane was right behind them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Take a minute. either unable or unwilling to pursue them. Grego r could see she was unmarred. Twirltongue and her silken voice.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah? Is that how it looks to you?" said Gregor." said Gregor. "}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Twirltongue. Then he pushed it down." said Twirltongue." A chase would hopefully we ar the Bane out a bit and keep him from killing anyone else. "I am king. Twirltongue. "You're looking good. "Hey. The Bane was drained." Gregor said. A large tunnel. I am king now! The rats follow me!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then how come they're out there attacking you? Plus the spinners. Grego r could sense other rats in the area.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Will this place do?" Ares asked. it look . Bodies on the ground burst open under his feet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This isn't like before." Gregor called. Several wounds had reopened on his face. At first. He wanted one-on-one. the nibblers. but Gregor's breath was coming in pants and he had no trouble seeing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He's not going to be king. "I'm fighting a whole new opponent." said Ares. They listened to the sound of the Bane. Sh e'd probably ordered Twitchtip's death. then more caverns. She leaped off of his back now. trying to locate it. "My tail!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A king does not need a tail." said the soothing voice. making seemingly imp ossible leaps up boulders and onto ledges as he followed behind. didn't it?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Twirltongue says I'm the king!" said the Bane. that whole nibbler th ing kind of blew up in your face. the crawlers. "Calm yourself before you destroy him. Anyon e in reach of his claws was shredded. The torchlight was gone. and finally coming to rest on a plateau that seeme d a million miles from anywhere. But they weren't. finding a strange tunnel w ith dripping rock formations. It would also give Gregor a less distracting place to fight."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Is there much room?" asked Gregor. too.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The tunnel to the right.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It's perfect. but soon they fell away. the humans. "Where'd he come from?" he asked Ares." F or a moment."}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar The Bane must have picked her up somewhere along the way." thought Gregor." said Gregor. Ares took to his wings. "I know it. "Where'd she come from?"}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "I do not know. he felt a shudder of fear deep inside him. She was the one who had made the plans and groomed the Bane into this deranged creature." said Ares. The spider sil k bandage had ripped off somewhere and blood ran from the stump of his tail. "Let's make him work for us. Her silver coat was f lawless and unruffled. thick foam hanging from his mouth. T he chase had been a good idea. H ow he hated her. It leads farther into the r ats' land. "A little to o good. He began to move in circles. the fliers.rately fled to escape him. A nice safe place to observe the match. He wanted quiet." said Gregor.

lurching from side to side. then why are you untouched and I am like this?!" hissed the Bane . No one would follow someone as untried and feeble as myself. "She's dead. Gr egor's rager state was at its peak..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares began to dive in wild circles around the Bane. Gregor's arm. This strategy had worked well before and now the Bane had no tail to retaliate with. before the Bane flung it at Gregor and Ares. almost hitting them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . It smashed into the ground with an a wful. He plunged his sword into the s oft flesh. and suddenly they were spinning over and over." said Gregor. The Bane swiped at them again and again. No one will ever follow you again!" T he Bane sprang and." And then his distress transformed back into rage. trying to twist the sleeve of his shirt into a sort of bandage over a gash on his left arm.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Whether the Bane had just thought that one up on the spot or Twirltongue had pla nted it in his brain along the way. Now his motions were erratic and unpredictable. he really believes it!" Gregor said in a hushed voice." said Ares. teeth bared in a final grotesque grimace. He wa sn't concerned with his own state. The Bane stroked his paws over his eyes a few times. You're right. he c ould control his actions with a deadly accuracy that left him heady with power. in one bite. No one will follow you. Gregor did som e damage to his paws. hollow sound. ripped Twirltongue's head from her body. This was a new feeling.}{\par \pard \hyphpar But if the Bane had been a challenge back in Regalia. there had been at least so me sense to his movements. edging along a boulder. "You will not take over. This strength.s like she's getting you killed so she can take over. ignoring his own wounds as his claws found Ares's wing.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "I've got to get in closer if I'm going to take him out!" said Gregor. The Bane gave a strangled cry and jerked backward. But she was backing away.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Use it. But he was not overcome by it. then lo oked up in confusion.}{\par \par d \hyphpar "We need a new plan. By the time the bat had spun back around. Your scars are badges of your might. The rat soon became disorien ted.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "Just like you killed my mother!" said the Bane.." said Gregor. freeing Gregor's b lade.. "He's lying!"}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "If he's lying. not bothering to block Gregor's attacks. I'm the king ! I'm the king!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Of course you're the king. This lethalness. "Twirltongue? Twirltong ue? She's dead.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Man.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Pull back!" Gregor shouted and Ares whipped out of the Bane's reach. "You killed her!" he spat at Ares and Gregor." said Twirltongue. In fact. This must be what Ripred felt all the time. Who would follow a nothing like me?" said Twirltongu e with a light laugh.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Ares dodged the rat's first attack.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The Bane nosed along the ground until he found the head. Gregor had no idea. "Where's Twirltongue?" he said forlornly..}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Go for his face!" Gregor said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Because kings are bold and brave fighters. Ares's ear." he began to whimper.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He has lost his balance.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. only that Gregor end up dead. "Where did she g o?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Neither Gregor nor Ares replied. and Gregor found himself directly under the Bane's foreleg."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What? What?" The Bane was so far gone that that was all it took. but was still fighting bitterly.. He only knew that twelve feet of rat was coming at him and the long-anticipated fight had begun. but that was all that his sword could make contact with. It hun g in his mouth. his eyes narrowing into slits..}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Hang on!" said Ares. He turned to T wirltongue.

Gregor knew there was no way they could clear the claws . He thrust his sword in the Bane's direction but it was too late. Because only one creature was br eathing. And the Underland? No..to play out this war. Sandwich was right. Gregor dropped Solovet's dagger and wrapped both hands around the hilt of his sword. This is where they would eventually find them. their proximity to the Bane. Ares still dangled from the Bane's jaws.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He wasn't really so different from the Bane. Like Ares. And it was Gregor. No one could survive a wound like that. The blood was leaving his body fast. trying to dislodge it. Think of the knight. Despite this knowledge. and pulled him forward.. a killer. "No!" Everything seemed to move in slow motion as the rat caught Ares's wing.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The images of the cavern were dimming. His hand went to his breastbone. The entire front of his neck had been torn off.. who would want him around on a regular basis? There was no place for Gregor. Ares!" He had a terrible sense of dread. to the ground. Suspiciou s. His fingers pulsed w ith the rapid beating of his heart. then running onto the ground to join th e Bane's." He r emembered the calm.}{\par \pard \hyph par "It's okay. Then the Bane made an unearthly sound and rammed his free paw into G regor's chest. lifeless. and a feeling of peace slowly descended on him. "It's okay. he dragged himself across the floor to his bond. "This is the end. Gregor's blade pierced the rat's hea rt. spun him around so they were face-to-face. Gregor would die." Gregor whispered to himself.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He knew they were dead. despite the pain. Ares. Scraping out a life in some desolate place. He realized his death was not only okay. he'd eventually end up like Ripred. Both of them were used \ uc2\u8212-. a chan ce to revive him. smooth face of the knight in the Cloisters. ever be at home? Not in the Overland. His breathing became shallow. interconnected. How could he go back after all t hat had happened? After what he had become? Where would a twelve-year-old kid.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Except maybe Gregor's family.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar The words went through his mind but he couldn't speak them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Ares the flier. That had been some laughable dream. "Ares!" Grego r cried. his wings bent at a wkward angles.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This is it. Then he became still and slowly sank down to four legs. it was for the best. The claws had t orn aside his armor and opened a hot wet hole in his chest. and he hoped they never found out. Not anymore."Get out!" Gregor cried.. A dangerous character. Because no matter how much the hu mans loved him during a war. a face free of a ll earthly pain. anyway. Over. Both of them were pulled into this whole mess without having any real understanding of it. I bond to you. He was never going back to New Yo rk.. He was right after all. The Bane pawed at the blade in his chest . okay? Don't. Gregor pressed hi s face into the bat's blood-soaked chest. For a moment. they hung there." The blood was flowing too quick ly and no one who could help even knew where he was." But he had gone. and rolled onto his back.. He could fe . Even before h is bat opened his wings. alread y buried in this sunless hole far beneath the earth's surface. Seeping out of h is chest and mingling with Ares's blood. onto his side as if to curl up." thought Gregor... Gregor lost his grip on his sword as he flew back into the air an d slammed onto the stone floor. The Bane would die. Both Ares and the Bane.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Still clutching Ares's claw.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Above him. Some thing was wrong about their position. how m uch he had killed . Gregor rolled over onto his back and found himself cradled by the bat's wing.the Bane by the rats. "Get out. The rat opened his mouth and the bat fell. "Ares?" Gregor's right hand reached out an d found Ares's claw and latched on to it. and they could even throw in Ares for good measure. To have them dead would be a relief to everyone. Ares lay on his back. supported by teeth and swords and claws.. under. but they had no idea who he had become . Gregor by the humans \uc2\u8212-. "Ares? Ares? Don't go. And both of them were paying with their lives. A s the Bane sank his teeth into Ares's neck. hoping in vain for a heartbeat. a warrior. or in between.

"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Cake?" said Gregor. you have decided to wake up?" Howard's smile was so warm that Gregor couldn 't help smiling back. "It's okay. He wanted to reach it. To dissolve into the blueness." he whispered to himself. Boots. you!" she said." His voice was rusty and almost inaudible." he heard Lizzie whisper. Boots's face slid into the frame.el the world slipping away.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Something must have gone terribly wrong. feel it had less to do with a love of yo u and more to do with a love of cake. awakin g from a long. The ones who'd had near-death experiences.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What happened?" Gregor asked.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "You're getting crumbs on him." said Howard. Some. And suddenly it became clear to him. I got tired waiting. his face worn. You're here. There was a light. "Maybe he's waiting for me. "Not the fireflies. his chest! He droppe d his arm back quickly.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You were rescued from the Dead Land by a pair of daring adventurers. Dad. It was better if he didn't move. who risked all to carry you back to our doctors. With great effort. He should have picked a better spot. Was he at the beach. It must be the light people talked about. older. blue light appeared."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The pain left his body and Gregor had the sensation he was traveling. warm nap in the sun? There it was again. The pain ebbed but was still there. She took a bite of a cookie. a pure.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then everything went black."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar Far away. His dad leaned over him . showering c rumbs down on his face. "Maybe Are s is there. his chest.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar They were both alive.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Boots took another bite of cookie and he shut his eyes to avoid the fallout. Ripred had gotten them out somehow.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "So. "At least."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar . Gregor could see the concern in his eyes. oh." She did seem slightly put out. he managed to wiggle his toes. "Yo u sleeped a long time. He was almost ther e. In a few seconds he would re ach it. man. People needed to be more careful. Above him. You went down a tunnel." his dad said. He was gli ding closer and closer to the beautiful blue light.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Gregor?" said a voice he had never hoped to hear again. The muscles on his face felt stiff and unused. Gregor?" asked his dad.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 25}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Something sprinkled across his forehead. Kicking sand around." thought Gregor. "Come to take you all home. "How you doing? How's my little guy?"}{\par \pard \hyphp ar His dad? What was his dad doing here? What was going on? Why wasn't he dead? Whe re was the blue light? Who could possibly have found him in that forsaken place? }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can you understand me. myself included. "It's okay. But when he' d died in that cave he'd been thinking more about \uc2\u8212-."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I came down just as soon as I could. He was still alive. "Hey. "}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor slowly became aware of his body. Sand maybe. Why was he so weak? How long had he been here? He struggled to move th e fingers on his right hand but found it impossible. "Hi. His left arm jerked up in a panic and pain spiked through his arm.Wait! When he'd d ied in that cave? Where was he?}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's eyes flew open. this is how they tell the story. People you'd loved who had already died were reaching for you. the hospital ceiling was brightly lit by tor ches.

"Come. G regor."Oh." said his dad." said Gregor. Give Dulcet some help with those mouse babies." said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I can't move my fingers. blue light wasn't from another world." Lying in blood.to the Plain of Tartarus. it is quite impossible for them to leave until they are assured of your recovery. I promise. And Luxa indulges them for her own reasons."}{\par \par d \hyphpar When he woke again. "It's going to be okay. Vikus was recovering but had lost much of the use of his right side. Gregor. okay? I'll sit with your brother. the Bane's forces had fallen to pieces and been easily de feated by the humans and their allies. where he hoped he still had a hand. Our old and dear friends Photos Glow-Glow and Zap. He would bring Gregor's mother with him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor heard his own voice in his ears. But one day. was Ares's claw. "Whole body hurts. Dying. even though it hurt like crazy. His face was sober as he gen tly lifted Gregor's hand into his line of sight.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "They have spent the last two weeks gorging themselves in a room off of the kitc hen. everyone was turning to Luxa for leade rship. {\i "Don't} go. yes. Chest ripped o pen. Bane dr awing them in. Zap managed to gnaw his claw free. We must give him time." said Howard.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That explained it. too. Then your nerves are working. Ares. The minute the fireflies had brought word of the Bane's demise \uc2\u8212--along with Gregor's unconscious body \uc2\u8212-." said Mareth. all of this happened only minutes ago. Well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ares. A couple of nurses propped Gregor up a bit with pillows and br ought him some broth. Dying." said Howard." said Mareth."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Who else was lost?" asked Gregor. {\i "I've got to get in closer if I'm going to take him out!"} Wing snagged." said Howard. The beautiful. but you will have to let him go yourse lf.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. We have not wanted to force your hand open. for fear of breaking bones. The last horrible moments of his bat's life replayed in Gregor's head and he squeezed his eyes shut tight. Mareth was sitting in the chair next to his bed. cemented with blood.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . Howard asked him more questions. Dying.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The hospital staff is still working around the clock. We can soak it.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She's better. "So.. But through it he heard his dad 's voice. But still very weak. York. it was f rom Photos Glow-Glow's butt. lifting his head to help him swallow some medicine and a little water. was going to come down from the Fount for the surrender as well. Sword in heart. The B ane's death had just been the final straw that had broken their spirit.}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar As for his loved ones. Drink this.. Just as Ripred had predicted." sai d Howard to his family. Locked in his fingers.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar The darkness began to close in around him again. Lapblood's armies fighting against them had been a significant blow. They will work by and by. Mareth volunteered to feed him. His dad was asleep on a cot. then?" asked Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. "The shiners were unable to release your grip. but he couldn' t respond. you need some nourishment. Her uncle. You don't think so now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. Locking his jaws on Ares's throat." Gregor glanced down at his right side. "He must rest. There wo uld be an official surrender in the arena soon. and the nurses accepted an d dashed off. "Your family will have much healing to do. okay? Don't. Gregor couldn't help laughing. They were already weakened psychologicall y. You don't see how it ever could be. having by that time figured out that the Code of Claw must have been cracked. Terms would be agreed upon. just how bad do you feel?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Very. you go up to the nursery. The whole thing was so absurd.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "In his mind. Soaked in blood."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Girls." The soldier spooned broth into his mouth and filled him in on the last couple of weeks. You see. Falling. it's going to be okay.

Temp. Ares wasn't coming back. It is unlikely.}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "We found rat skeletons. Hazard. we have had no word of him. having been so instrum ental in this war. But who could Gregor tell this to? Luxa? Vikus? He was too weak to g o into it now. All of the code team survived . not wanting to let go." he said. "The rescue team saw only this much. Never once told t he rat how much he admired him." Gregor said stubbornly. avoiding his eyes. Nike. But he was overcome.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was a tunnel actually." said Gregor. It was not the kind of thi ng they discussed. Slowly. "I will check on you by and by. We met up with them on the Waterway. because he had been right about Gregor survivi ng the war." said Gregor." said Gregor softly. A rager. who but Ripred could have managed such a feat?"}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "No one. And there was proof now." said Mareth. Aurora." said Mareth.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The water was warm and comforting. Holding his cl aw wouldn't bring him back. That Ripred had died. Up until that last morning." said Gregor. L uxa." said Gregor. "I know they need a lot of help r ight now. The rats attacked from both sides. Ripred was able to fight a path out the back. Three of them. I'm fine. Ripred couldn't die."}{ \par \pard \hyphpar "What? But everybody got out of that cave. One. a large male who had evidently surv ived the fall and dragged himself some twenty yards before the insects overcame him. Maybe even loved him. There would have been thousands and thousands. "I've got a lot to tell him. One by one.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You don't have to stay." said Gregor."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "He left you a basin. I was sure I'd be dead. Your family.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then you never actually found Ripred."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth seemed to understand that Gregor did not want company just then. It should be buried with the rest of him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Somehow Luxa was beside him with a towel. Haz ard. Then Ripred\uc2\u8212--" Gregor stopped. as they were forced to f lee. She solemnly removed the claw and wipe . and left."Many. We sent a rescue team when word came.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The same."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The mites who killed Pandora. his body flung into the ab yss below. But ask yourself. He was invincible. Gregor. He had never showed any gratitude toward Ripred. enabling Nike to flee with your sisters. his fingers peeled away and he extended his stiff fingers.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I didn't expect. he felt as devastated by Ripred's loss as he had by Ares's. He wasn't supposed t o tell about how Ripred didn't believe in Sandwich's prophecies. He placed it at Gregor's side and then guide d his hand into the water. Mareth. A short one that ran between the Plain of Tartarus an d another cavern beyond the walls. Nerissa.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Beyond that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. Never really thanked him." said Mareth. Howard." said Mareth. To his surprise. The claw broke away from his hand and floated beside it in the basin. I start to crack at about f our hundred to one. Heronian. he did not make it.. "Better perhaps to think of who still lives. Vikus."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Mareth stirred the broth. and Reflex. The blood t hat glued him to the claw dissolved."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And Ripred. to have to deal with this. But he had to let go. Gregor loosened his grip. You kno w the ones.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not by myself. Told me I could beat the Bane.. His right hand contracted around Ares's claw. "Ripred gave me a pep talk. His bond at least knew how Gregor felt about him. When they arrived. it did not seem quite real." There would have been more than four hundred mites in a nes t." said Mareth. "Howard sa id I could soak my hand." said Gregor. "Even a rager can be outnumbered. Gregor. that he would be silent in the aftermath. Still." said Mareth. Did it make any difference now the rat was dead? Maybe Ripred would want everyone to know his p osition. Then he remembered Ripre d's words. he had alrea dy been devoured by the swarms of flesh-eating mites in that nest there."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And you did. "No.

To protect me the way he couldn't \uc2\u8212--" Lizzie cut herself off. but I knew he wanted to keep an eye on me. The wound on his chest was unreal. replaced by someone who could never find a home anywhere. and the entire nibbler nation was homeless. She just sat w ith her legs tucked up under her in a chair. More than a third of the human population had been wiped out. In public.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Heard you guys talking one night. Half the tim e she didn't even hear people when they spoke to her. "Saxophone. Lizzie would forget nothing. " he thought. At least."}{\par \pard \hyphpar There were probably a million things they should be saying to each other. Gregor was taking walks around the hospital.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Empty. And Gregor didn't kno w how to tell him that he didn't want to move to the family farm in Virginia. but alive.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "Because of me." said Lizzie. "It does not seem to be injured. It wasn't until he took his f irst bath that his condition really hit him. yeah. How would he ex plain that to someone in the Overland?}{\par \pard \hyphpar His dad kept talking about their new life in the Overland." Gregor finished for her. Luxa spent as much time as she could with him. They had painstakingly stitched closed the stripes left by each individual claw mark. "That's better. until his dad woke with a start from a nightmare. Gregor could see the re would be five scars to remind him of the Bane's final attack."}{\par \pard \hyphpar And there was nothing Gregor could say to convince her otherwise. but th ey just stayed like that for hours.}{\par \pard \hyphpar By the end of the week. Eventually she'd stop talking in Crawler and probably forget all of this. Regalia was a wrec k." But he couldn't say something like that t o his dad. let's move on down to Virginia and plant those tomatoes. and beat u p. That the boy who had fallen down the air shaft on a hot summer's day was gone. he did. lift ed Gregor's hand.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It was my fault he died. her face thin and sad. Then she sat on the side of the bed.}{\par \pard \hyphpar For the next few days there was not much Gregor could do but sleep and let peopl e feed him.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "How did you know about her?" asked Lizzie. shaky. "That's going to fix everything. She was only three. di dn't even want to go back to New York. Tha t other kid from that other time. not talking. "Maybe if we just keep telling each other that. When it healed.d the remaining blood from it. He was so weak it was an achievement when he sat up himself. and going fishing. everyone turned to her for answers. too. Luxa was steady and st rong. lik e the water." said Gregor. and carefully dried it. I ran track. and Gregor had to reassure him that everything was going to b e okay. a blessing in another.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The way he couldn't protect Silksharp.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "Oh. He didn't say it..}{\par \pard \hyphpar The school band? It took him a minute to even remember what instrument he had pl ayed. but sometimes when she was alone with Gregor." said Gregor. Gregor. She hardly talked since the war had ended. She would just keep turning it over and over in her mind. she would bury her head in h ." Gregor thought." Gregor thou ght. but she was already being consumed by her ne w responsibilities. "If I hadn't been there. He was so skinny.. How d oes it feel?" she asked. one day it will be true. and how Gregor could join the school band again. Luxa entwined her fingers with his. when their dad and Boots were asleep. a small miracle when he could walk across the room again. he'd st ill be alive. which was sad in a way. But there was his dad going on about planting extra tomatoes so they would have plenty to fry up green.}{\par \pard \hyphpar One night. When it was clean. Her skin was warm. But Lizzie . With the council members and Solovet dead and Vikus trying t o learn to feed himself with his left hand. Why Ripred had even brought the code team so close to the battle. Ripred's death had hit her hard. she wrapped it in a white clot h and laid it on the table beside him. I liked science class. And what about his sisters? B oots would be fine. Gregor asked her about it.

Howard. At least thirteen. Lapblood's a rmies hadn't fought to save the humans." And he would pu t his arms around her and hold her. there was so much hatred between the species now that anythin g was possible. And his swords.}{\par \pard \hyphpar That made her laugh. He had separation anxie ty just thinking about it. which only made her giggle and call for more. tapping. you look so grown-up in that. and several mice helped however they could.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When the monster's blood is spilled. He reached out a hand for her to join his fami ly. It was very complicated stuff. And for the first time in forever. and slipped out the doo r. tapping. R ather. Besides. "Wow. all of the decisions were landing squarely o n her shoulders. Although the Bane's forces had th rown in the towel when they had learned of his death. In his mind. Gregor knew how to kill things. Everyone knew the surrender was merely a gesture that would be d irectly followed by the question "What will happen now?" And Luxa. or the tappin g. "Me! Me! Kiss me!" and his dad scooped her up and everyone covered her in kisses. "I do not know what to do. you will rot while they are mapping}{\par \pard \hyphpar Out the law of those who gnaw}{\par \pard \hyphpar In the Code of Claw. And Gregor had to smile when he saw her in deep conve rsations with Temp. began to squawk. A lot of people had tears running down their c . He wanted to tell them it didn' t matter. they had fought to save themselves from the Bane.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Looming over her was the day of the surrender. Luxa was eating dinner with his family in the ho spital room. Haza rd. He felt naked without them. York advised her in letters from the Fount.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His sisters and dad had already flown ahead to the arena. Gregor noticed Luxa. but he had no idea what to tell her. when Gregor's mom walked in. and how the living would now pay for the acts of the dead. Mareth.}{\par \pard \hyph par Gregor once walked in on Luxa and Nerissa trying to unravel the last stanza of " The Prophecy of Time" . would be expected to have answers about who would control what lands. they bowed as Luxa passed. not bring them back to life. Boots. Perdita.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar The night before the surrender. Gregor was j ust wearing a plain shirt and pants.}{\par \pard \hyphpar . Nerissa. this was the official ackn owledgment of the rats' defeat. but they stopped abruptly when they saw him. Gregor remembered why he was lucky. and if rats could be divided into friends and foes. Couldn't they see that? Wasn't he living proof that the prophecy was w rong? That Sandwich was a fraud? But he didn't know how to convince them to chan ge their minds about Sandwich. Gregor could see the road was lined with people. repeating again and again. But what was to be done with Lapblood and the ra ts who had sided with the humans in the end? Would they all be lumped together w ith the enemy rats? That wouldn't be fair. Gregor met Luxa before the surrender.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The next morning.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When the warrior has been killed. as the head o f Regalia. When the platform lowered them t o the ground. But ultimately.. but Gregor had promise d Luxa he would walk through the city with her. but as some pointed out. but she walked in and opened her arms without a word. who was too little to get in on the main action. No one cheered.. shook her head. They had lived by his words for too long. you must not ignore the rapping. She was dressed in a gor geous gown with a jewel-studded tiara on her head.. although he could tell she was pretty nervous. watching his fa mily reunite. They all ran to her and wound up in one big embrace.}{ \par \pard \hyphpar After a minute.}{\par \pard \hyphpar if the gnawers find you napping. standing alone by the door.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar At least Luxa had a strong support system: Aurora." he said.. He couldn't help thinking of how once she'd had so many people to love her who were no longer here. She was way too skinny and unsteady on her feet. he couldn't wear them. but she just gave him a small smile. Nike. Back in the Overland.er hands. of course.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But they found your skeleton. "Look at my home. Funny. He hadn't seen them since the rescue. "I thought you were dead. More than a few bugs. reaching up to lightly touch the new slash on his face. but enough to get away. Not a lot. Three rats waited before it.}{\par \pard \hy phpar "I do. At the center of the arena was an empty circle. Then she took a deep breath and headed in. trailing behind him. hadn't even thought to thank them. "Ripred! Ripred!" She pushed her way out of the crowd and threw her arms around his neck. York. and Howard stood in a group. Small stone s and dirt began to fly out of the mouth of one of the diggers' tunnels. it takes a lot to kill me. The paving stones beneath their feet were stai ned with blood and scorch marks from the fallen torches. had turned buildings into rubble. which cris scrossed with the existing scar. fliers. all. A little girl missing a n arm stared at them with empty eyes. Aurora fluttered down and landed just outside of the circle as well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 26}}{\par \pard \hyphpar The stunned silence in the arena was broken by Lizzie's squeal of joy. too. Gregor even noticed Photos Glow-Glow and Za p sitting on a bench. Mareth. Gnawers. with the help of the diggers.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar When Luxa stepped into the circle Gregor hung back at the edge. it didn't show. She stoppe d and surveyed the wreckage around her. Gregor could see hi s dad and Lizzie. ni bblers. and humans." said Luxa. but I can't help thinking warmly of him now. "Greetings.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "That must have been Cleaver's. Half of his fur and a good portion of his skin had been eaten away. His face had received another diagonal slash. Even Neris sa had pulled herself together for the event." said Ripred. nodding. Perdita. Gregor. He would try to remember to after the ceremony. I dove under his body as soon as we landed and t hen ran. Luxa paused. diggers. what little conversation there had been in the arena cea sed. One of his back legs was useles s. occasionally lifting a hand. anyway. leaving bloody. dragging himself into the circle. oozing places. But Luxa swept around them gracefully while Gregor sort of hopped along after her. A gener al ripple of alarm ran through the arena. The place was packed with delegations from every spec ies that had played a principal role in the war: crawlers. But his voice was unmistakable."}{\par \pard \hyphpar When they got to the doors of the arena.}{\par \pard \hyph par He was almost unrecognizable. it was hard to make a dignified entrance because the f loor of the arena was so pitted with the tunnels the diggers had made. I have come to accept the surrender and pr esent the terms of the defeat. She held herself with dignity and her voice was clear and steady. The rats. Gregor fo llowed a few steps behind." said Ripred. Even though a pat h had been left for them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Look at my city. She s poke only once when they came to a crossroads where four streets met." said Lizzie."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I told you.heeks. If she was still nervous. Gregor reached out and gav e her hand a quick squeeze. gnawers.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "How did this happen?" asked Lizzie." said the rat. I always despised Cleaver. The mites had to chew him up before they got to me so it bought me some time. Then the bedraggled creature nosed its way out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I speak for the gnawers. who speaks for you?"}{\par \pard \hyphpa r One of the rats stepped forward to reply when there was a commotion. spinners.}{\par \pard \hyphpar .}{\par \pard \hyphpar As Luxa took her place. Somewhere in a bunch of cockroache s he spotted the tops of two curly heads and knew that Boots and Hazard were wat ching. Luxa acknowledged the crowds. Everyone was still so jumpy from being under attack. Nearby. We have gathered here to mark the end of an unhappy and costly war.

hated. "Yes! I say he speaks f or us!" Lapblood and her two children made their way out of the crowd. One half by a gnawer. by none detected. And now the human line and the gnawer line meet in the flesh as well. Who wouldn't be out of their league with Ripred?}{\par \pard \hy phpar To make matters worse. whispering among themselves. it was clear that Lapblood was trusted among her own kind. and everyone was turning to their neighbor in either dismay or confusion. Nerissa suddenly cried out.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Many of us have scars that cross!" York strode out of the crowd.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Dealing death. You'll remind me why I'm here. But taking Ripred for granted was a big mistake.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could see the tension in Luxa's shoulders. And the X! One half was given by a human. And he'd been fighting with the humans and their allies for so long. It's nothing. Luxa. Gregor had the feeling that he had always been w orking toward this moment. "It is but another scar among many." said Ripred. But to do it with Rip red standing by to challenge her every move? Ripred? She was out of her league a nd she knew it.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Marked by} X."}{\par \pard \hyphpar . A moment after her declaratio n. by most rejected. Ripred?" Luxa said icily. Now up you go.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "Think of the words.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Killed by claw." said Nerissa. they intersected. "It describes Ripred exactly. T hey shifted around.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'll hurt you. and locked eyes with Luxa. It didn't really matter who he was up against. Most of the rats had long consider ed Ripred an enemy. And the arena quieted to hear her recite the poem from the prophecy room in her quavering voice:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i On soft feet.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do you not see?" insisted Nerissa. clear and forceful." she said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then a voice rose. see you the mark o n his face?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Luxa scrutinized the rat's face. "Oh. as long as he stood for the rats. may be he'd thought Solovet or Vikus would be there to negotiate with him. thought lost. even they'd begun to take his allegiance for granted.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I told you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. the rats united with her and began to call for Ripred to act as their represe ntative. To speak for the gnawers. She had been chosen to find the plague cure and had had the influence to lead the dissenters against the Bane.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Luxa raised her voice above the hubbub.}{\par \pard \h yphpar Now the creatures in the crowd found their tongues. Or did you think I spent years risking li fe and limb so that you could dictate our future?" asked the rat. trying to reach some kind of co nsensus. since resurrected. Two lines intersecting. but brought back to life. "Is this true." He nudged Lizzie up onto a patc h of fur on his back. two lines connected. one unexpected.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "And why is that. above the others. In Luxa and Ripre d.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Finally. It was hard enough to have to lay out the postwar plan in front of the entire Underland. Maybe he hadn't expected to be dealing with Luxa. a rat cut me.}{\i two lines met. gnawers? Does he speak fo r you?" The rats were clearly as amazed by Ripred's appearance as anyone else. Slipping in un detected."Oh. If Ripred had always been an object of suspicion."}{\par \par d \hyphpar "But look! It forms an X! The mark borne by the peacemaker!" said Nerissa. deadly.

the other toward Ripred. there's really nothing I can do about it one way o r the other. Then you should have no problem peacefully leading your fellow gnawers in to the Uncharted Lands. "So. everything became ugly and hard. I killed him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor's mouth dropped open in disbelief. It would be a small price to pay for being design ated the peacemaker. So much so that I flatly ref use to do it. Perhaps he will even remember past kindnesses and take my side i nstead!" retorted Ripred. but it does make a lot of sense. But the rat was looking at Gregor. Your Highness. Even if he stays. wanting to know where he stood. aren't you? You're really going to go back to war ?" Gregor said. I do have a problem with that. Everyone in the whole arena turned to him. smirking a nd rolling his eyes ever so slightly as if to say. "Do you fancy yourself the peacemaker. "What do you say to that?"}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "I say that you may go peacefully or by force. is there?" said the rat.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar With her proposal. He flung the pieces aside. maybe it shouldn't have." Luxa said. "Well."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And so 'The Prophecy of Time' is fulfilled!" said Nerissa breathlessly. I don't like to blow my own horn. "But I wonder how you will fare.The arena went nuts but Luxa remained unmoved. "See what I mean?"}{\par \par d \hyphpar While he had no way to prove it.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "You're really going to do it." said Luxa. Would they never shut up about those prophecies? But he o . She waited for the commotion to d ie down.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor shook his head." But he had thought. although in retrospect. Gregor was suddenly convinced that Ripred had g iven himself the second wound. The jungle. remember? You two owe each other your lives! You owe me your lives ! And now you stand there and ask me to choose between you? To help you kill eac h other?" Gregor yanked Sandwich's sword from his belt and swung it so violently that even Luxa and Ripred stepped back. I have Gregor!" said Luxa. Luxa! And your pups. that the prophecies were written in stone. Gregor took the sword blade between his hands and slammed it acro ss his leg with such force that it snapped in two. I'll wager he finds your meas ures too harsh. then said. the Bane.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do you? I wouldn't count on it. He could feel something boiling up inside of him. The warrior's dead. "We may as well get it over wit h.could make things right again! So you could stop the killing! We were fighting for th e same thing." Ripred spat at her. "There. the Firelands. What were they talking about? What wer e they both doing? Could they actually be going back to war? And did they plan f or him to join them?}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We will leave it to him to decide.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor could hear everyone murmuring to one another that this was true.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Good. and then turned to him. "Forget about ever ybody who's dead! Tick and Twitchtip and Hamnet and Thalia and Ares! And your pa rents. Whe n she had started the war. with your limping army and your broken city and me at your throat instead of your back!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I do not need you. Fresh blood was running from his empty h ands as he held them up. Ripred. Luxa had told Gregor. on e toward Luxa. Ripred?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well. that she might have cha nged her mind.}{\par \pard \hyphpar This surprised even Gregor. then believe me you shall have it!" g rowled Ripred. it is your choice!" said Luxa." His voice wa s rising and he could feel the rager side of him taking over. guess what? The warrior's not fi ghting for either of you!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar And with that. Apparently not. with all that had happened during the war. Have the war that will answer the question of who stays and who goes.}{\ par \pard \hyphpar "If it is another war you are looking for. And if I am. Ripred! Let's just forget about everybody who gave t heir lives so that you could have this moment where you could \uc2\u8212-. what N erissa's saying. we'll jus t forget about what happened.

in strife.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "There will be no treaties!" Luxa repeated. in flame.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Finally Luxa's expression solidified.nly said. didn't I mention that before? Now I'm not saying they're taking t his opportunity to finish us all off."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yes. War or peace. in war."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No one trusts treaties." she announced . Luxa began:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Ripred the gnawer. indeed. "They have always failed us in the past." She stepped forw ard and raised her right hand to Ripred. We might deter them." replied Luxa.. i n flame." Gregor's heart slammed somewhere dow n around his feet.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "And my grandmama is rolling in her grave. I see. "Whatever. write up a treaty or something.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Trust us? You just tried to banish us to the Uncharted Lands! I think if anyone needs a little reassurance. And the whole arena broke into cheers. I offer it. then flee. Luxa put her arms around her n eck. "Although the boy doe s make a point about the perversity of starting a new war while the blood is sti ll drying from the last one. Especially when the cutters are amassing at our bor ders..}}{\par \pard \hyphpar Then the rat dropped his paw and gave a big stretch. weak. With them so strong. Battle or compromise.}{\par \pard \h yphpar It was the moment of truth. it's the gnawers!" answered Ripred. In dark. but you have to admit it'd be an excellent time. I do. But she had not finished. Now what are you two going to do?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What. and the bat enfolded her in her golden wings. Between you and m e. "Don't we get a feast now?" }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Let it be as he says." said Ripred. if things were different between us .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We have done it in the past." He lifted his paw up and pressed it again st her hand.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar To which Ripred replied:}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Luxa the human. Made him go mad. I bond to you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "The past is gone. Do you dare take it?" asked Luxa. Our life and death are one. then die in battle." Luxa said sharply.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "She was always too hard to please. after such a display?" said Ripred to Luxa. All of the old hatreds and sacrifices and debts and hopes swi rling around inside her as she tried to decide the fate of the Underland." Ripred said. we two. and us so." said Aurora. Our life and death are one.I don't know.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The crowd let out a gasp at what she was proposing. I bond to you." Gregor heard Ripred say to Luxa .}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Then you decide." The crowd reacted. we two. "It was the best thing to do. Luxa. You decide how it is to be. "Oh. A vow to defend each other to the death.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i I save you as I save my life. I save you as I save my life.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Your grandpapa is going to be so proud of you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar After a moment." said Luxa. and Ripred circled around to make sure everyone could hear him. Flickers of Solovet's hardness interchanging with Vikus's desire for understanding. Between our species. "There will be no treaties. "But I offer this. "So \uc2\u8212. Even Ripred was initially ta ken aback. Friends or enemies.}}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i In dark. . Solovet or Vikus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do I dare?" said Ripred." said Luxa. Gregor could see Luxa's internal struggle playing ou t on her face. It was the very decision that ha d destroyed Hamnet. Trust or no trust. Of course. But he recovered quickly. "Yes. They go up in a flash. "A bond?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A bond between all humans and gnawers. in war. in strife. How do we know we can trust you now?" asked Luxa.

I t was difficult to distinguish. my mom won't even let me have a pocketknife."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I expect you will get used to it. He collected the broken pieces of his sw ord and they headed for the hospital.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Do not worry.}{\par \pard \hyphpar As they walked into Regalia. No need to crowd the room. But his left eye brightened and his good hand reached out when G regor and Luxa came in.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Ugh. "I suppose so. then I can survive it. Luxa said. either. Ripred hadn't fooled her one bit. but there is to be no war..}{ \par \pard \hyphpar Lizzie went with Ripred to be treated. "You should have made that cut a little deeper." said Gregor. I've got more memories than I can handle. too."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred sighed." Aurora said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I have no idea what you're suggesting. I want the pleasure of telling Vikus what happened . Killed him off really. "You know. propped up in bed." Gregor said with a smile."}{\pa r \pard \hyphpar "And you. "Hope?" Gregor asked.}{\par \pard \ hyphpar "Well. this time against each other. just wait until you hear what Luxa did. Ripred. "You had best get to the hospital. "Luxa and Ripred were rec ruiting me for a new war. "And then I suppose we must meet to determine the s pecifics of this historic day."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus's face was registering alarm. Gregor clasped his hand with his bleeding one. Gregor? For memories' sake? "}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No. he worked a word from himself. I need one human to genuinely approve of what I just did.. Do you not wish to keep the sword. I will walk you two down to the hospital. "Besides. how you doing?" Vikus couldn't really speak yet. It may leave no scar at all. putting his leg in a . Shall w e say four members for each delegation ?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why not?" Luxa said." Gregor leaned down and kissed him on the cheek." Gregor removed Solovet's dagger from his belt and put it with the sword."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor left so that Luxa could tell Vikus about what had happened in the arena. Vik us. but Gregor wanted to see Vikus first. So. And may I add that I think it's very ill mannered of you two to be doubting me. "Look. "It's their border.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "If you think so. but Gregor thought he knew what Vikus wanted to say.. "Come. You and I seem to end up doing everything. "Hey. I think you and I are going to get on famously. he was dripping blood everywhere. Besides. The old man nodded and pointed at Gregor's chest. The rat did not deign to reply.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I do not suppose we left you much choice. too." }{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred laughed." said Luxa. "You are bleeding. "I give you hope?" Vikus nodded. "Yes." Luxa said. thanks." he said." said Ripred. you are teeming with infection." Ripred said loftily. "Four can be as stupid as ten. I did kill myself. He found Ripred and Lizzie in a room." said Gregor. turning to Gregor finally. Vikus raised his eyebrow for an explanation. get off of him before you catch so mething vile. then. I just wanted to ret urn this to you. The old man was sitting. With great effort. Ripred is alive and leading the rats." Luxa lifted Lizzie off of Ripred's back."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well." said Luxa." answered Luxa." Gregor held up the pieces of Sandwich's sword and laid them on the bed. there might be. Vikus.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What about me? Don't I get a hug?" Ripred asked." she told Ripred. Overlander. The right side of his body was impaired by the stroke. A team of doctors was trying to put the rat back together." said Luxa. "Well. and then where will our peacemaker be?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor laughed. Particularly my ne w bond. Lizzie.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Vikus gave him half a smile.. I retired the warrio r.}{\par \pard \hyphp ar "Bet there aren't any cutters on the border."}{\par \pard \hyphpa r "You've already got that. "Take care.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. They both glared at hi m but that only made him grin." Luxa snapped. I wouldn't vote for either of you. humans.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I think there are too many of you." Lizzie licked her lips. but four delegates of each species. everyone liked the idea of choosing the others' delegates. "But now Ripred's mad at me. look. "D on't feel superior! Don't anyone in this room feel superior! We have all inflict ed unspeakable evils upon one another! Let's admit that or we're just sliding ba ckward!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Hey." interjected Gregor. stop sulking! It is not as if I will be invited to stay. Nike.. The rat climbed off of the table and no one knew where to pick up the conversation. }{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh. For a couple of characters who had just bonded. the meeting of the delegates was about to begin. bats. but will be happy that their neighbors feel the same.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We make no headway here. The trick is. Then Lizzie timidly spoke up. and Lizzie scampered up onto his back. Now let's go eat an awful lot. Lapblood . G ood luck. There we re twenty-eight in all." She wasn't really supposed to talk. like in the prophecy. giving Lizzie a wounded look. Ripred was putting up an awful big fuss. Gregor and L izzie sat up against the wall. all the reasonable delegates are left. and a mole whose name no one could pronounce. "And that that delegate should be chosen by the ot her species. and moles gathered around the table. The seven were Mareth. "There's nobody weak in that room." muttered a spider who Gregor didn't know. to k eep an eye on her. But not as big as it would have been if Lizzie hadn't been comforting him." said Gregor as he left with t he rejects. Heronian. cleaning and bandaging his mite-eaten flesh. "Time is turning back. but it was soon clear that Ripred and Luxa planned on do ing most of the talking. but very pleased that he can go to the feast now. tugging on her braid.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Well."}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "Shut up!" Ripred spat at him. cockroaches." he said." said Lizzie. but everyone respected the code-breaker."}{\par \pard \hyphpar There was a long pause while everyone considered this." said Heronian encouragingly. you have to figure out who are the most likely to share.cast. spiders. you mean. Then she add ed sadly. too. "And good idea. Things looked like t hey might actually turn physical when Ripred jumped on the table and shouted. rats." put in Gregor. "No. not restitution. Of course. you guys."}{\par \pard \h yphpar "It's kind of like the logic puzzle about the cheese." He took Lizzie's hand."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor and Luxa lingered in the hall as the others went to the feast. But to let the others choose theirs .}{\par \pard \hyphpar By the time Howard had bandaged Gregor's hand. round table.. they su re didn't agree on much.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "All the weak ones. Temp. not military contro l. And that is the nature of compromise." said Ripred. Not land division. Everyone will feel they have been trea ted unfairly. "I have an idea ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "On the contrary.}{\par \par d \hyphpar .} {\par \pard \hyphpar "I am sure we would all welcome it." s aid Luxa.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar Gregor looked into the room. No one will like it. Other voices chimed in and soon the conversation had moved away from the futu re and back to the past evils they had done to one another. I'll just leave now. It was held in a room with a large. Lizzie wanted to go to be near Ripred. Only you turn it inside ou t. so Gregor went. Lizzie. For somebody who was so toug h. " he said. "Ripred's very cranky that no one voted for him. They will come up with a plan. Liz. I think each group should only get one deleg ate.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The delegates were chosen. shall I?" said Ripred. Reflex. I believe we should give Lizzie's suggestion a try. "It's ideal really. So there's one cheese and seven creatures have to share it. mice.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar "Well. Hop on.

It was a clear night. Remember. In the Overla nd. It's just a place I've visited. Gregor said good-bye to the bats." said the rat."}{\par \par d \hyphpar "Will you be glad to be home?" asked Luxa." said Luxa. A few star s were visible and the moon was magnificent. They collected a basket of food from the kitch en. and Aurora carried them out of Regalia to Ares's old cave. parting them forever."}{\par \pard \hyphpar The words made Gregor's blood run cold. He'd better re member. just for a second. It will be quite simple to forget me. maybe." said Gregor." said Gregor. tick. Anyway." said Luxa. "Watch yours elf. His family waiting on the docks.}{\par \pard \hyphpar In no time." It was no longer an effort to say the words. Aurora fluttered in.. no matter how hard I try. leaving them alone. His few possessions from the museum a lready neatly packed in a bag. Gregor the Overlander. tick.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Nike and Aurora flew his family and Luxa over the Waterway and dropped them at t he stairway beneath Central Park. tick. "You know where I will be." said Gregor. It's part of you. tick. Or who knows what he might do? "Run like the river.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Where is Virginia?" Luxa asked. ti ck. tick. Ripred. The quick flight back. tick. In a few hours. Hundreds and hundreds of miles.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "Come and look. tick. They just sat with their arm s around each other.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "My mom wants to go today. "Probably not.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A long way from New York. tick. and then turned his attenti on to Lizzie. Cool night air rushed in. "I love you. it's a lot easier to lose your head than to ke ep it."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It will be easier for you. tick. ready to go. "My dad convince d her it was important for us to stay for the surrender. then held Lu xa's hand while his dad pushed the rock aside.}{\par \ pard \hyphpar "We shall never see each other again. who but your family even knows my name? And they will not want to dwell on y our times here." as she showered Temp with kisses. Here there will always be talk of you. Then she backed down a few steps and they held each other's gaze until Gregor's dad slid the rock in place. Virginia isn't my h ome. there was nothing left to say. And you've killed enough that you don't have t o think twice to do it. But Luxa would only climb up to where her head and shoulders were aboveground. But she wants to get to Virginia as soon as possible. who was crying her eyes out. tick. But neither of them could eat." said Luxa. tick..}{\par \pard \hyphpar Ripred made a point of giving Gregor some last-minute rager advice. That rager thing isn't going to magically disappear. tick."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Fly you high.}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\i Tick."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I love you.}{\par \pard \hyphpar ***}{\par \pard \hyphpar } ." said Gregor. Ther e won't be anyone you can't take.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah." ." Gregor said. "I'll remember.}{\par \pard \hyphpar And after that.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "No.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor had trouble believing it was really happening. Won't even be able to write." said Luxa." she said.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor found himself wishing Sandwich had been able to cough up a few more proph ecies about the warrior.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We finally can have that picnic.}{\par \pard \h yphpar "Never." she said. "I'll never get rid of you. "See you soon. tick." said Gregor. "They are call ing us back.} . There were hugs and good-byes but only Boots said . too. "I can't even imagine being back.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "This is where I will think of you. Then she flew out around the lake. horns were blowing from Regalia."When must you go?" asked Luxa." he said."}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor kissed Luxa good-bye and climbed out into the park.

The driver was ti red. His dad had been waiting u ntil they got home to break the news. The calendar in the kitchen would be worthless. When Grego r opened the door to his apartment.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r Dawn was just breaking over the city. Gregor's mom had to rest every couple of flights. he couldn't believe how small and cramped th e place looked. No one called his name.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Oh.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The tunnel was dark. familiar smell.. What day was it? What month was it? He had no idea. A siren went by.. so they took the stair s up to their apartment.. This air was crisp. and even though she was dropping fr om fatigue. melting in his hand.." his dad said. The flashlights long dead.{\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\b CHAPTER 27}}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was late. He knew he'd gotten beat up pretty bad in the Underland. Had his own voice woken him? No one came running in." he said. vines.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor cracked open his window and took a deep breath of the exhaust-scented air . teeth.}{\par \pard \hyphpa r The falling nightmares that had plagued him growing up had stopped when he'd had Ares. falling. bu t things healed up and you moved on. It had been stupid to go this way. geez. The screams must have stayed in his dream. but he c ould turn on the TV. Then there were the wounds he'd made on his hands when he'd broken Sandwich's sword less than a day ago. Only he hadn't accounted for the accumulati on of scars that dated all the way back to his earliest visits. Gregor didn't even bother with pajamas. uncommunicative. sweat-soaked.}{\par \pard \hyphpar They went straight to bed. No.. and didn't seem to wonder what they were doing hanging out in Central Park at that hour. That had been in the dead of summer.}{\par \pard \hyphpar When they got to their building. slashing open several faces. They had a du sty. claws. to ground himself i n some kind of reality. Grace. "It's her heart. He tried to run again but the floor was crumbling beneath his feet and th en he was falling.. Marks left by sq uid suckers. She's in the hospi tal.. the elevator was broken. As he ran he could feel the rats panting so he turned and swung. filled with rats and blood. But then something happened to his sword. feel the agony as they pierced his chest!}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor bolted up in bed. }{\par \pard \hyphpar . Whe n she came to a little black bat she'd gotten last Halloween she held it up happ ily. That's when Grego r realized she didn't know that Grandma wasn't there. Sudd enly he had an urgent need to know how much time had passed.. He flung off his blanket and froze a s he got his first look at his body in sunlight. "Look! Ares!" Gregor could think of nothing to say as she flew the bat arou nd her head. Gregor was relying solely on ech olocation. falling into a black pit. Music from a car radio blared then faded.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His parents came in about ten minutes later. He hadn't been home since Hazard's birthday. his right hand clutching his throbbing chest. His d ad finally gave him the keys and told him to take the girls on ahead. splattering himself with bl ood. Now they had found him. The old comforting sounds of New York City lulled Gregor to sl eep. Two-fifteen by the clock on the taxi's dashboard. Now they were back again. He screamed for Ares but t here was no Ares and he could see the sharp rocks as they rushed up to meet him. But the nightmare had been too real. He could go down to th e corner and check the date on a newspaper. He sank back o n his pillow and watched the sunlight brighten until it stung his eyes. He and Lizzie slumped back on the couch while Boots immediately dumped a basket of plastic animals on the rug and arranged them in a parade. A toilet flushed. Ripred had told him that but he ha dn't listened. his mom went right in to check on his grandmother. He knew he should go back to sleep. We'll go see her first thing tomorrow. His skin wa s like a map where you could trace all of the terrible things that had happened. that would wake everybody. He just strip ped down to his Underland briefs and crawled between his blankets. It became rubbery. pinchers. heart pounding.. He'd been in bed only a few hours.

That man had bad dreams until the day he died. though. both of which seemed too short . Cormaci asked." said Mrs. but this was the first time I hit bottom.}{\par \pard \hyphpar While he ate. "It's like this. Maybe it would help. Nothing left to help once you hit those rocks. "Your pants are too short. They'd just gotten back together.. huh?"}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Nothing good. How could he ever explain them? Say he'd been in a car wreck? Fallen through a plate-glass w indow? Wrestled a pack of tigers? If he couldn't explain them.like the five claw marks the Bane had left on his ch est. well. But some of these things . in however long he'd been gone. and then they ship you off to some war and tell you to kill.}{\par \pard \hy phpar Gregor dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and pants. a pair of dress shoes he'd gotten for the spring concert." said Gregor. If you hit bottom. though."}{\par \pard \hyp hpar "Don't worry. They were part of him forever. Cormaci fought in a war. They were going nowhere fast. What's that goi ng to do to your head. You stayed in one piece."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "One woke me this morning." And even if people wanted to help. You spend your whole ch ildhood hearing about being nice to other people and how hurting someone's a cri me. Cormaci had sent him but they'd been r uined in the war." he said. "Maybe she'll just take us kids. He didn't want to talk about it. Forget the beach. Cormaci. there's a whole lot of people here to help you up.. He couldn't form any of it into words." said Mrs. lookin g him up and down critically." Gregor said. though.}{\par \pa rd \hyphpar "Maybe. Gregor. Gre gor. You don't need to tell me or anyone else about it unless you feel like it. He'd done quite a bit of growing in . No one could help him there. He put on his socks and his only Overland footwear. mister?" Mrs. He' d want answers and the truth would land Gregor in a mental ward. "I used to have fa lling dreams before." she said. He wanted those great sneakers Mrs. that just isn't going to happen.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Cat got your tongue?" asked Mrs. what's been going on with you. "Want some juice?" She poured him a g lass without waiting for him to answer.. In my dream. "I don't see how we can stay here. Cormaci... She had always been an early riser.." said Mrs. he'd have to hide them. Gregor was alone i n his dreams.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Help me up?" Gregor thought.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Has it started already?" he asked. So. Gregor." she said."}{\par \pard \hyp hpar . Mrs. His toes felt cramped and they looked stupid with his ou tfit.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You're going to need new clothes for school. Cormaci's apartment. Want some French toast? "}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor followed her into the kitchen and sat at the table while she made breakfa st. Cormaci. Cormaci. I fell to my death.The Underlanders had given him more of that fish ointment. I knew there'd been some terrible thing s." she said. forget gym class.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't know. They weren't exactly in style but they fit pretty well and looked better than the dress shoes.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "It won't be the last. p ouring syrup on the toast.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar Gregor thought about all that had happened since he'd last been home. A doctor wouldn't accept some lame excuse. "So. If your mother has some idea about taking her on a road trip to Virginia. She filled him in on his grandma's condition. but as he passed Mrs." said Gregor. the door opened. "We're halfway through October.}{\par \pard \hyphpar He left quietly. and forget even going to the doctor u nless he was on death's doorstep. Mr." She piled the t hick slices of challah bread fried in egg batter on Gregor's plate and placed a platter of bacon in front of him. either. "She's not doing too well.." She dipped a piece of bacon i n his syrup and chewed it thoughtfully. "You know.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You'll be all right.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Weeks ago. Cormaci found a pair of old sneakers that had belonged to one of her sons about twenty years ago. All he'd s een and done." It would be awful b reaking up the family again. "It's okay. "Wipe me up is more like it.' She's in intensive care.

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "But you said you did. "It d oesn't matter.}{\par \p ard \hyphpar The place was almost empty.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Can I see her?" asked Gregor. We'll work it out. The knight was just as Gregor had last seen him. Gregor?" asked his dad." said his dad. "I'm going for a walk. I don't want to run away. Thinking of this knight had gotte n Gregor through some tough times. but she let him in with a couple of glossy brochures and a warning not to touch anything. It would be awful wherever he was. "Ripred says if you run from things that scare you they just chase you. Thirty-five bucks. No one could say when his grandmother would be able to leave the hospital. Weird bandages on his hands. "You were the first one packing when I mentioned it. Tried to imagine staying here.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The day was cool and sunny. his hands resting on his sword." said his dad. What did she see ? Some kid in mismatched clothes showing up alone in the middle of the school da y. with the carvings of strange animals. "I have to do a school report." said Lizzie. and now he wa s going to have to learn how to live again. And did he really want to go? He didn' t know. that the idea of hanging out with them and pretending everything wa s back to normal seemed impossible. Do you have any information or anything I could look at?" She was still wary. sleeping away eternity. The trees were starting to turn. What if he'd told his parents he wanted to go back and liv e in the Under-land? Where he was not such a freak? Where he had friends? Where he had Luxa? They would never let him go. He had to see the st one knight who had gotten him through these last weeks.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The morning was spent watching his sisters while his parents and Mrs. lying beneath the window. he realized it was no longe r of use to him. I don't care where we live. He pulled his jacket off of the hook by the door. Gregor stood at the ki tchen window watching the neighborhood kids go off to school. Did they think he had moved? Was sick? Part of him wanted to see them badly an d another part never wanted to see them again. He tried to cover. which were sor t of eerie and calming at the same time.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "What are we going to do now?" asked Gregor. He checked his pocket." said L izzie. He had made the trip today because he expecte d to find some comfort in the stone figure. the tapestries. He hopped on the subway and headed to the Cloisters.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't want to go to Virginia. The Cloisters reminded Gregor of Regali a. Cormaci we nt to the hospital. but in a few blocks he knew where he wanted to go. But Gregor kept thi nking of another world. That would be p lenty. He had been through so much. He only knew that he felt like a stranger in what used to be his home." he said. chan ged so much.}{\par \pard \hyphpar The woman at the booth hesitated when he tried to buy a ticket. one without sunlight and precious few trees. Maybe when she's stronger. floors ." he said. The knight couldn't help him with th ."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I don't want to go anymore. While Lizzie and Boots ate breakfast. "}{\par \pard \hyphpar He hadn't had a destination in mind when he'd left. son. "About Virginia?"}{\par \pard \hyph par "I don't know. We're supposed to write about the coolest building in New York. ceilings. Maybe that would help hi m make sense of things. He wandered through a couple of rooms before he found the tomb. But now. A nd he felt very alone. Lizzie. He had spent the last months learning how to die. and even th en she'd probably have to go to some kind of nursing home with full-time medical care. I picked here. The visit had been a shock to his mom."I didn't know.}{\par \pard \hyphpar His parents got back around lunch. And Gregor couldn't remember the last time he'd had a haircut.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Not now. This is our home. and they all looked at her in sur prise." said their mom. the stone walls.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor tried to imagine living in Virginia. that he see med to belong to now. Gregorian chants were being piped in."} {\par \pard \hyphpar "What about you. He thought of his friends Larry and Angelina and wondered what they must make of his disappearance .

}{\par \pard \hyphpar "A little. starving." Gregor repeated. the human race had a lot of evolving to do before that happened. They leaned back and watched as the streetlights came on. "Hold me. "But I've still got you." said Boots. There were b ody parts and smoke and relatives wailing." Gregor said." his dad said." Boots dug in her pocket and pulled out the little black plastic bat. "I just went for a walk. A bomb had blown up in a marketplace somewhere. the desperation. Like Vikus said. Would it ever change? What would it tak e to make it change? He thought of Luxa's hand pressed into Ripred's paw. The news anchor was ju st starting to show a grainy video of a soldier who had been taken hostage when his mother reached in and switched off the television. Lizzie an d Boots were playing some game with the plastic animals on the floor. killing forty-nine.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Here."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Are we moving to Virginia or staying here?" Lizzie asked. but all of them.}{\par \pard \hyphpar One tugged on his jacket and lifted up her arms. Because if you thought about it. He stopped on the news. Seeing the news had made him think. But maybe it wasn't. the fear. Gregor tur ned on the television and flipped through the channels. If you had hope. You can finally say my name . She rested her head on his shoulder and studied his face. "Hey. "Where on earth have you been? Do you know how long you've been gone? You had the whole family worried sick!"}{\par \pard \hyphpar Boy.}{\p ar \pard \hyphpar Suddenly Gregor smiled. His parents went in the bedroom to talk." he said. he supposed."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "I'm sorry.}{\par \pard \hyph par "I'm sorry.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "You miss them. That's what it would take.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Yeah. maybe you could find the way to make things ch ange. driven from their homes by an enemy army. By the look of things.at. Gregor. "You feel sad."}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Thanks. He was safe for the moment. Gregor. but he had never reall y paid any attention to them until now.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "We're still working that out." When they reached the playground. How little into saving." he said. here in t he playground."}{\par \pard \hyphpar It had all looked pretty familiar. You've just got to get used to having parents again." she said. "Hey.}{\par \pard \hyphpar It was late afternoon when Gregor got home and he wasn't one step in the door wh en his mom descended on him.}{\par \pard \hyphpar "Why don't you take your sisters out to the playground?" said his dad." He remembered all of the ti mes he'd thought he had lost her."}{\par \pard \hyphpar His dad laid a hand on his shoulder. nothing would happen unless you hoped it could." said Gregor.}{\par \pard \hyphpar Gregor sat on a bench. "You kids go on out and play a whi le. she was upset! Her eyes were red as if she'd been crying. People rejecting war. Not one or two. I do. She put it in his hand. Maybe it was i mpossible. Are s. How much energy they put into harm ing one another. and tightened his grip around her. "I thi nk you've seen enough. The next story was about refugees dyi ng on the road. there were so many reasons to try. Lizzie wandered around alone with her han ds deep in her jacket pockets and her eyes on the ground. killing one another as they waged their wars. He had walked a lot today and all of his injuries were hu rting." Gregor said. but people all over the world were suffering. She looked so sad." Gregor pulled Boots up onto his lap and}{\par \pard \hyphpar snuggled her inside his jacket. "They've been cooped up in here all day. Boots."} {\line }{\line }{\par \pard \hyphpar {\qc {\b Table of Contents}}}{\par \pard \hyphpar . These things had always been here in the Overland. Boots immediately ran off to build castle s with some little boy in the sandbox. "You can have this. fleeing. The bodies. Sayi ng it was an unacceptable way to solve their differences. "It's okay.

{\ul PART 1: The Code}}{\ul CHAPTER 1}{\ul CHAPTER 2}{\ul CHAPTER 3}{\ul CHAPTER 4}{\ul CHAPTER 5}{\ul CHAPTER 6}{\ul CHAPTER 7}{\ul CHAPTER 8}{\ul CHAPTER 9}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\ul PART 2: The Ticking}}{\ul CHAPTER 10}{\ul CHAPTER 11}{\ul CHAPTER 12}{\ul CHAPTER 13}{\ul CHAPTER 14}{\ul CHAPTER 15}{\ul CHAPTER 16}{\ul CHAPTER 17}{\ul CHAPTER 18}{\par \pard \hyphpar {\ul PART 3: The Warrior}}{\ul CHAPTER 19}{\ul CHAPTER 20}{\ul CHAPTER 21}{\ul CHAPTER 22}{\ul CHAPTER 23}{\ul CHAPTER 24}{\ul CHAPTER 25}{\ul CHAPTER 26}{\ul CHAPTER 27} {\line }{\line }} } .