Chapter 9: In which Carmen Apprehends a Spy

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Carmen returned to the Old City alone that afternoon. It had been two weeks since she had left Grim there. She told herself she was only checking up on him. Deep down she just wanted him back.

The city streets were hot and bright, but entering the Old City was like stepping into a forest glade. At one point she looked up and saw an archon watching her from atop a faceless statue, but as soon as she did it flew away. She climbed the steps to the square, slipped beneath the arch that stretched between the two old buildings, and entered the courtyard.

"Hello?" she said to the archon on the door.

Its eyes opened. "Oh it's Just-A-Girl. Ha!"

She rapped on the door, ignoring the archon's taunts, and gave the password. The door swung open and she went inside. She stood for a moment in the gloom, gathering courage, then moved off down the hall.

Time drags when you're alone. Even so, Carmen began to feel that she had been walking an inordinately long time. She had not yet passed the tempus at the top of the staircase, and soon found herself at the junction of two dark corridors of which she had no memory. She wished for the comforting presence of Grim at her feet – he would have known which way to go – and she wished she had waited for Slops (he was out for the day with his parents). But the desire to see Grim again had been sudden and burning.

A different girl may have retraced her steps. Foremost in her mind, however, was the knowledge that Slops had found the way by himself. If he had done it, she could.

She chose the left-hand corridor, and was soon lost in the mazy dark. A dreamlike panic descended on her. At one point she realised she was jogging. A lot of good you'll be stuck down here with a broken leg, she thought, and slowed to a walk again.

She passed through a theatre where tiers of seats rose steeply up into darkness, their cushions long since rotted away. There were piles of bones on the floor. Skulls leered from beneath chairs. She hurried through the theatre and found herself on a narrow staircase littered with bones. She knew that if she stepped on one of the bones she would scream. Then she wondered what, down here in the dark, would hear her scream. Where had all the bones come from anyway?

She passed a black doorway from which warm air whooshed gently in and out. There was a sinister smell about the place, and she glanced back at it several times as she hurried down the corridor. There was an arched doorway at the end of the corridor. Beyond lay a narrow aisle lined with – but no, it couldn't be.


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