[Warning: Spoilers about The Phantom Assassin, book two in the Keepers of Elenath series included. Continue at your own risk!]
Gah. I’m not sure whether my doppelganger has been hiding out in Elenath, keeping secrets from me all this time, or if time just moves slower in Elenath than it does here. But here I am, a month (?) later, and Theloq is still frowning at me across the small table as if nothing has happened. Well, a lot has happened, at least to me. Apparently not to him.
Except now I know who he is, really. Thanks to Rook.
I’m not sure whether Theloq knows that I know, but I shift and automatically ask him the next question. I’ve gotta knock out a whole bunch of them this time.
“Are you diplomatic?”
“Depends on what you mean by that. I can get people to do what I want, or what my superiors want, with very little trouble. Sometimes it takes an arrowside chat, but . . .” Theloq shrugs. “As far as diplomacy through meetings and endless words, no. They send someone else for those meetings.”
I have no idea how I didn’t see this coming, this new side of Theloq. Or rather, this unveiling of Theloq’s old side. Or something,
“What is your greatest fear?”
“That this interview will last forever.”
I grin. It’s lasted a lot longer than I think he realizes. “Hannah wants to know what is your biggest regret? If you could go back to that day and change it, would you?”
He breathes deeply through his nose. “The day O . . .” he pauses. “The day I lost my family. If I could go back . . . yes, of course. What kind of person wouldn’t want to change their deepest regrets?” He raises an eyebrow at me. “Is this why Hannah’s got a herd full of psycopathic killers for characters?”
“Is what . . . why . . . nevermind.” I shake my head. The last thing that Hannah and I need is Theloq making an alliance or even an enemy out of any of her damaged darlings. “Okaaaaaaaaaaaay.” I search the questions for one that won’t get me killed. “What is the one thing you love most?”
“Peace and quiet.”
I smile at his jab. “When were you chosen to be a keeper? What was it like being a keeper? From Emily.”
“I was chosen after a run-in with Sarr, as a fairly young man. Nordic had chosen me long before, but I was running from the call. Being a Keeper was completely against what I was filling my time with.” Theloq chose his words carefully. “Sarr’s was a rescue mission, rescuing an elf much older than he was. And as for being a Keeper, I hated it for a long time.”
How interesting. I wonder if he’s dropped so many hints before and I just never noticed. I spot a question that is not dangerous and ask it. “There is a band of three thieves who break into your house. Within your reach is a a butter knife, a loose floorboard, and your pet hawk. Which do you choose as a weapon, why, and what is your plan of action?”
Theloq chuckles, and my mouth drops open. Theloq can chuckle?
“The floorboard, clearly. Darbrun would never take to being thrown, and I don’t own a butter knife. Never had use for one. That is, if a band of thieves would ever find my house and be foolish enough to break in. Which they wouldn’t.”
“Mirriam wants to know: What would your reaction be if someone handed you a tribble and/or fluffy kitten and said ‘It’s going to die if you don’t adopt it right now?’”
Theloq stares at me. “Tribble?”
“Uhm.” I squint. “Let’s go with kitten.”
“Can I hand it off to Gwaeron?”
Theloq rolls his eyes. “Darbrun wouldn’t let me keep a kitten.”
“Not part of the question.” I chortle. “What if it was a cute, black fluffy thing that caught the mice in your stable?”
“Fine. Yes, of course, I’ll adopt the thing. As long as it can care for itself while I’m gone.”
“Okay.” I smile.
“Are we almost done here?” Theloq leans back in his chair.
I laugh internally. “Um. Sure. Almost done.” Not. Maybe half done.
“What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Do you like cookies? Favorite food? Do you like music? Favorite song? Favorite color? Sunrise or sunset? Do you like a bow or a sword?”
For a second, I swear Theloq’s eyes glaze over, and I’m about to break down the list, when he begins to rattle off answers like a machine. “I assume Ice Cream is an earth food, and I don’t like earth food. Plain, oatmeal cookies. Venison slow-cooked over a campfire.” He pauses on the song-question. “Meh. Don’t really like music. The Lay of Beren and Luthien’s not bad.” Theloq’s been to Middle-Earth? “Hunter Green. Sunset. Both. I’m better known for my archery, though.”
I scribble as quickly as I can, not surprised at any of the answers except the one about the Middle-Earth song. “What would you do if you could get Hannah or Emily alone and defenseless right now?”
“I have no use for alone and defensive authors. They talk too much and bring too many characters with them.” He smiles maliciously. “just know if anything goes wrong in their respective books…”
Uh-oh. Watch out, guys…
“And the best question ever: If trapped on a deserted island with Colleen, Rook, Eristor, and Valentine what do you think would happen? Would you side with anyone?”
“Why is this the best question ever?”
“Colleen’s not a threat. Eristor likes to pull the ‘I’m a rich aristocratic elfish snob’ ploy, but I think he’d be a good ally. Valentine and I have an agreement.”
“He’s a previous apprentice. His oath prevents him from attacking me under any circumstances.”
“I’d probably not team up with any of them, in other words.”
“Have you ever killed out of revenge? Have you ever taken justice into your own hands?”
Theloq’s eyes darkened. “I think you know.”
“Yes and yes.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Is the Phantom a copycat, Theloq? And Rook, is he your true son in the art of mercenary?”
His eyes narrow back. “As I recall, that’s not a question on your sheet.”
“It’s not.” I shut my book. “Is the reason why you have to find the Phantom and kill him because he was just like you? Because Theloq Longbow was once a hired criminal? Is that what Captain Sarr was rescuing you from? A life of crime?”
For a long moment, Theloq stares back at me, no surprise in his eyes, just a calmness that rattles me.
“Is the Phantom someone you trained to be like yourself?” I squeak, wishing that Emily or Hannah had asked this question instead of myself.
“Since you already seem to know all about me, dear author,” Theloq replied, still deadly calm. “I will answer. Yes. The Phantom, while I do not know who he is or what he is, employs all the tricks of the trade that I taught to my non-apprentices. He tried to kill Gwaeron because he was paid to–I’m not worried about his threats to Gwaeron, only the threats of his employer and who is employer is. The Phantom must die . . .” He paused. “The Phantom must die because there isn’t room for the two of us and I cannot allow his dark arts to continue. He must be ended as I was.”
I sit, stunned. It all makes sense. The semi-exile of the Elf Keeper, the fact that he can walk about in broad daylight with no threats from the Elf-hunters… It. All. Makes. Sense.
The Theloq stands to leave, I don’t stop him.
Theloq’s a criminal.