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carved idols, resembling various animals that Vance could not identify, dotted shelves and other surfaces.

Dragging his eyes away from the splendorous sight, Vance followed Bakkatt toward the room's nearest exit. Before they could reach it, footsteps approached. Bakkatt darted behind a trestle partition at one side of the room. Vance glided to an identical partition at the room's opposite end. Crouched low with their hoods pulled tight, the Rangers were all but invisible in the drape-covered room.

The fattest Drazi Vance had ever seen strolled into the room moments after the Rangers took their positions. Every finger on his hands bore a large jewelled ring, and a sparkling purple robe hung from his greying shoulders. The Drazi was old, but he still conducted himself with a regal demeanour. This had to be Musan Volt.

Vance felt every muscle in his body bunch. He was ready to leap out, but he knew to wait for Bakkatt's move. For now they would wait and observe. Musan Volt gazed from his window for several seconds as though looking for something. Then, with a shrug of his sloping shoulders, he turned and poured a glass of pale yellow liquid from a crystal decanter. He held the liquid to his nose and sniffed, closing his eyes and savouring the aroma. When he was satisfied, he pressed the glass to his lips.

A noise from outside made Volt freeze before he had the chance to swallow. The scraping sound grew louder, as though something were approaching up the wall. Vance could see Volt's hand begin to shake. Whatever was drawing nearer, Volt had a pretty good idea what to expect. Like a huge spider crawling from its web, the source of the noise arrived. One long limb after another crept over the window's ledge. Volt did not turn to greet his new "guest" even though he
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