to look into your face while I say it. I know how you're going to feel, and I'm so sorry.

I'm leaving Davillon. The last thing I want is for you to feel I'm abandoning you (or Renard, or anyone else). But I have no other choice. Everyone I love is here, but this city is poison to me right now. First Genevieve and Alexandre, now Julien…I need to get away from the ghosts, Robin. I need time, and I need peace, and I cannot find either here.

You won't be left to fend for yourself, or the Flippant Witch. I've reacquired the ruby that Renard took from Evrard's rapier,

Renard choked, his hand reaching for his belt pouch of its own accord, but he stopped his fingers from so much as untying the clasp. If she said she'd taken it, she'd taken it, no matter how impossible it seemed. He couldn't help but smile, though his lips quivered as he returned to the note.

from Evrard's rapier, and hidden it beneath the floorboards under the bed in my room upstairs. There's a sack of coin and some other valuables from prior jobs in there as well. Ask Renard to fence them for you. He'll grumble about it, but he'll get you a fair price. It should be more than enough to keep you comfortable, and the tavern running, for a year or more.

I hope, by then, that you'll be doing enough business for the Witch to support itself again. Bishop Sicard


he's not returning to Davillon until he's convinced the cardinals to lift this stupid Church interdiction on the city, and Igraine says she thinks he might actually pull it off. If he manages it, things ought to return to normal (whatever normal looks like anymore). If not-if you wake up one morning and we've got some new guy as bishop-well, I guess it means things didn't go so well. But we do what we can, right?

You shouldn't need to worry about Evrard. After that day in the cemetery, he refused to call in my promise of a duel. He said it was just for the time being, that it wouldn't be honorable to take advantage, but he sounded unsure. If I had to guess, I'd say he was questioning the whole vendetta. Maybe he's actually got a soul after all? I suppose fighting side to side against a monster of nightmares might tend to bring that out of one. Even if he


decide to follow through, though, he should have no reason to bother you while I'm gone. (And if he does, I bet you could talk Renard into dealing with him for a reasonable fee.) Keep an eye on him if you see him, but don't lose any sleep over it.

Tell everyone there that I'll miss them. Don't forget that we still need to deal with that leaky barrel on the rear left, under the green bottles. Trust yourself; you were always better at running the place than I was.

And please don't hate me. I know you may not believe it right now, but I couldn't bear to lose what family I have left. I just need time to deal with it all.

I will be back someday. I promise.

My love to Renard, and all my love to you, Robin. Be strong for me, and maybe I'll remember how to be strong, too.

— Shins

The letters blurring, Renard blinked a time or three and twisted in the chair, wincing as the movement pulled at the slowly healing gashes across his left shoulder. Carefully, he handed the note back to a red-eyed, flush- cheeked girl who truly looked as though the entire world had turned against her.

“I'm sorry,” he told her. It didn't really seem the right thing to say, but it felt less wrong than anything else he might have said.

“How could she do this, Renard?” Robin's words traveled on a voice that staggered, rubbed raw by grief. “How could she do this to m-to us?”

The thief leaned over the table, cupping her hand in his. “I know how you look up to Widdershins,” he said. “I know how highly you think of her. She's one of the strongest, most capable people I've ever met. But Robin, she's just a girl herself, still. And she's dealt with more in the past year than anyone should ever have to. This? This isn't about abandoning you, or me, or anyone. This is about running and pulling the covers up over her head, and praying that the monsters will go away for just a few minutes.

“There's no logic to it. It just is.” Again he smiled. “Hell, she probably thinks she's protecting us.”

“If she goes away,” Robin said miserably, “we can't help her.”

“I know. Gods, I know.”

“Do you think she's telling the truth?” she asked him, the tears beginning to fall once more. “Do you think she's coming back?”

Renard rose and stepped around the table so he could hold the sobbing girl in a tight embrace-and so he wouldn't have to offer her an answer that he honestly didn't know if he could give.

The shadow darted along the outskirts of Davillon, flitting between the torches and the lanterns, invisible in the deepest night. It was equally as silent as it was unseen; the hooting of the occasional owl, the screech and hiss of an alley cat, and the faint susurrus of the early summer breeze might have disturbed the quiet, but nothing of the sprinting figure ever did.

It barely slowed as it reached the outer wall, scaling the surface as easily as if someone had provided a winding staircase for the figure's convenience alone. A quick hop over, a glance to ensure that none of the sentries were anywhere nearby, and then down the other side to land on the dew-moistened grass.

Had Widdershins known that she was less than a hundred yards from the spot where Iruoch had climbed that same wall on his way into Davillon…Well, it probably wouldn't have made a difference.

She fretted over the burning anger she'd felt, the unnatural temper that had compelled her to hold a blade, however briefly, to Igraine and Sicard both. That her fury had been ignited by guilt over Iruoch's murders, and by Olgun's own discomfort at the creature's presence, she was all but certain; nonetheless, she felt the need to keep away from her friends until she could be absolutely sure she was back in control.

But that was an excuse, and she knew it. Mostly, she was running from the pain, and she hated herself for it-but still she would run.

For long moments she maintained her crouch, a heavy satchel slung over one shoulder, and stared back the way she'd come. Davillon was her world. It was all she'd ever known. It was home to everyone she'd ever loved.

It was the source of every wound and every hurt she'd ever received, in her flesh and her heart and her soul. The former might heal, but the latter never would-not here, anyway.

And then, finally, she forced herself to stand, to turn her gaze toward the highway that stretched out before her, winding its way through the dark and gently waving trees, toward an unknown and previously unimagined horizon. She'd never been there, never even come close. She wondered what lay beyond it.

“We're coming back, Olgun. Davillon doesn't get rid of us that easily.”

The god offered her the courtesy of a polite snicker.

Arguing the merits of her own sense of humor-and the obvious lack of a divine equivalent-Widdershins started down the open road, the city and everything she knew slowly fading into the distance behind her.

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