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Davalon proved more than satisfactory. He was good on top, he was excellent from behind, and she found him a truly superior ride when she was in the saddle. Ryel several times thought she had gotten every last bit of him, and then found him rising to one more occasion. In the end, she was doing all the work while he just lay under her keeping his end up and making sure her breasts had much more support than they needed. Smiling down on her dark elf lover, Ryel pushed down and back a few more times, sat back on him just savoring the feeling, and then peeled herself off him. She lay sprawled next to him on the mattress.

He pulled himself up, got a drink of water from a mug and then sprawled again beside her.

“You’re incredible,” he said at last. “Of course you would know that.”

“I’m a terrible slut, really,” said Ryel. “Or, excuse me, I’m very sex positive. It was not a popular pose in my home forest.”

“You are silvan,” said Davalon, rolling onto his side to look at her. He put a dark hand on her stomach. She looked down his body: nope, there was no resurrection this time. “I’m just guessing. You seem silvan.”

“Is it the density of the bush?”

He smiled, his white teeth showing in his dark face in the darkness. “You are a bit of a slut, aren’t you? I do not say it as if it’s a bad thing.”

“Yes,” she said, “I am silvan, I guess. I’m from Mirkwood. My people are into feasts in the beech woods, parties in the pine woods, baths in the Forest River. I was always a good hunter, I was always good at talking to animals, at least if I wasn’t trying to kill them, but, I don’t know, somewhere as I was growing up I discovered the thrill of hunting boys.” She ran her hand across his chest hair. “Putting them up against trees, you know, pulling up their tunics to see what was in their tights.” She pulled him to her for one more hot kiss, then one more.

“It got you in trouble.”

“Inevitably. And I fell in love with a prince, that didn’t help.”

“There are none of my kindred where you are, are there?” he asked.

“No, I would have remembered,” she said. “The sex. The moping.”

“Oh, we’re not that bad. You greenshirts have your issues too.”

“Oh, tell me all about it,” said Ryel. “We’re flighty and superior. We’re very annoying to travelers. We think we’re hot shit. We can’t imagine that the Blessed West could possibly be better than Mirkwood.”

“I do not know of these things,” said Davalon. “I don’t think the Blessed Lands could possibly be more blessed than the blessed land between your legs, Ryel.” He kissed her lightly. “You are not like the others,” he said with a laugh.

“You’re definitely not the usual drow,” said Ryel. “So what is this other job you have for us? If I may ask?”

“Well,” said Davalon, “it has to do with the Gugs.”

“The Gugs.” Her heart sank. “It had to be something huge, with huge teeth, that lives in big cities. Can’t wait to tell Arkmar. So: what is it you do for these ghouls, anyway? Can we start there?”

“That would make sense. All right. The ghouls, as you know, are alive, they’re not dead, but they’re sort of constantly decaying. They don’t even reproduce.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“Look,” he said, “you can say what you want about my kindred. Fuck my kindred. But these ghouls are—well, darn it!”

“They’re misunderstood.”

“They are,” he said with a rueful laugh. “Anyway, I got carried off Ngranek once myself, by a nightgaunt, and it brought me here, just like you. What was I doing on Ngranek? Proving myself. What else.”

“And they wanted to make you a ghoul.”

“Yes. Of course. It’s all they know, besides grave robbing and necrophagy. Anyway, needless to say, I found other ways to contribute.”

“You keep them healthy. You’re the freaking camp doctor, aren’t you?”

Davalon sat up. He looked around, framed in the dim light of the magical candle. “It’s a calling. That’s all I can say. They’re smelly and horrible and they have bad habits but they’re not evil. They need someone.” She was smiling at him, and he took a moment to determine that she wasn’t laughing at him, that she just found his dedication cute. “Anyway,” he went on, “I do keep them alive. I keep them going. I’m teaching them to talk. I’ve got them reading and writing, and not just on gravestones. I’m not saying they’ll ever be great poets or thinkers—well, who knows? Anyway.”

“What do you want us to do?”

“They have a book,” he said. “Well, they had a book. It disappeared, one of them lost it in the Gug city when they were taking their shortcut to the North Graveyard. They say it was a sort of guide to all the ways out of the Great Abyss, out of Dream itself. They need it back.”


“They get picked off. They have to sneak through all sorts of other things’ zones. Gugs. Ghasts. Even the Zoogs. The humans hate them. They need this book to know the secret ways. They keep telling me about it, but they also won’t let me go looking myself because they really need me. They call it the Book of Tree with Skulls. Or the Book of Skulls on Tree. Something like that. They’re not too good with prepositions, so sometimes it’s the Book on Skulls from Tree. And they don’t use articles at all.”

“Terrible. All right. So any idea where we look?”

“Yes. The Gugs would put it in their central tower, all the way to the top. Not the Tower of Koth, the City Tower.”

“And the pay, if I may ask?”

“Ryel,” said Davalon, “that would depend on what you’re seeking.”