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2.

“You have to come back with us,” says Janet. It’s not the first time. We’re sitting in the Rose; I’m on my fifth or sixth beer, and they each have a small mug of mulled wine, the cheap stuff, the stuff they mull so you can’t tell it’s the cheap stuff. She’s giving me her most intense sincere look, and Fenric, Goddess help him, is trying to look sincere as well. Not so easy for a junior-level thief.

“Why do I have to come back with you?” I ask. “I have a job. I’m taking classes. I have, you know, actual money. You know I sold that necklace—?”

“You told us,” says Janet. “Look, tell me you’re happy doing what you do. Tell me that’s the life you want.”

“Tell me,” says Fenric, “you don’t still yearn for the thrill—!”

“Of seeing four guys go down in five seconds? Of barely getting out alive? Oh, if only we’d had a better plan, right? We could have gotten those goblins’ treasure! Gee, what riches those guys must have, huh? Dingy copper pence by the dozen! Real simulated turquoise! Silver-plated necklaces, maybe! As opposed to what we actually got—what did we harvest from our last foray in the Dungeon, anyway? Gosh—could it have been—nothing?

They listen through all of this, smirking at each other, unfazed. At that point, I know they’re going to win the argument.

Fenric pays for their mugs of wine, with coin that I doubt he earned in the usual sense, and they drag me out and up the Vine Street and around the corner to Sleepy’s. They sit me down at a table in the back, and there I sit looking at Janet while Fenric goes and gets a pitcher of ale. There’s a band playing, a harp and a lute and some drums and some sort of recorder, and the worst of the five or six girl singers they ever have at Sleepy’s. It’s not worth trying to talk over her cat-like wailing, just to find out what Janet thinks Fenric is going to want to do. So we study each other. I have no idea what she sees, but what I see is a handsome enough woman who almost looks like a young man in those priestly robes, the black with a little white that marks the Virgin’s novices. Er, acolytes.

“Uh, hey, you two wanna dance at all?”

We do the same slow turn and look up into the faces of a couple of likely young lads. I think two weeks ago I would have jumped all over either of them. Last week I would have suggested they join us on a scouting foray in the Catacombs of Valen.

“My advice,” I say, “go away. Blow.”

“Oh look,” says Janet, “our boyfriend’s coming back!”

They look up and see Fenric, who is not what I would call intimidating, but the two guys decide by some combination of mind that it’s not worth getting into. The spokesman of the two mutters something humorous and they clear out.

“Who were those guys?” asks Fen. “Wanted to ask you guys to dance?”

“Wanted to know if we were planning another foray into the dungeon,” I say, “so of course I advised them to stay far away.”

He sets the pitcher down, and the three mugs, and then himself. “That’d be so very amusing,” he says, “if I believed it.”

“Seriously. Why should anyone want to go back in that place?”

“Ah, see, you want me to tell you why you want to go back.” He smiles at Jan. “See?”

“Yeah, I see,” she replies. “Now tell me.”

“You’re not convinced?” I ask.

“Oh, no, I’m just having so much fun memorizing scriptures.”

“For the record,” I say, “how much spell power did you have left after all that?”

“After I healed up that guy with the bad foot,” she says, “I saved enough for two heal spells, but I blew it all on putting orcs to sleep. I overdid it, actually. I had headaches for two days.”

“Oh, I hate that,” I say. “I thought I’d done the same thing, but apparently I have more energy than I thought.”

“See,” says Fenric, “this is why you need to come along. Swords didn’t save us, did they? That archer you found us, she didn’t shoot a whole lot of goblins. You guys put them to sleep, that’s what got us out.”

“You’re saying why you need us,” I point out. “You’re not saying why we need to go.”

“You love those cauldrons, don’t you,” he says. “Love those fumes.”

“Don’t knock it. I make money.”

“You know there’s gold down there.”

“There’s gold in the purses of lovelorn young gentlemen and old gentlemen and middle-aged ladies. There’s gold in those cauldrons.”

“There’s the Lapis Circlet.”

“Do not make me laugh, Fenric.”

“There’s adventure. There’s a future.”

I glare at him. I can’t bring myself to argue. I give Janet a look. “A future,” she says, “not working for your mom.” I wince. She looks at Fenric and says, “We still need warriors, though, don’t we? Where do we get warriors?”

“I take it Eleanor isn’t available,” I say.

“Eleanor,” he repeats. “Oh, she’s taken up with some other folks. Friends of yours from school, I think?”

“Who,” I say.

“Chick named Lucette?”

“Lucette Barnswallow?” I ask.

“You know her?”

I take a minute. “Goddess,” I say at last. “If you’re lying just to get my goat, I swear I am going to put you six feet under.”

“What?” he asks with great innocence. “Hey, I’m down here from Travishome, Janet’s a Having Hall girl, we didn’t go to school in Insmoor like you did, we don’t know any of these people.”

“Six feet under,” I say. “Maybe deeper.”

“He’s not lying,” says Janet. “I mean, I don’t know people, but yeah, Eleanor isn’t talking to us, but she’s talking to some other locals. I guess she’s not so grossed out by what happened to us as she is by the fact that it was us she was stuck with.”

I stare at her, then back at Fenric. Why exactly would I trust a thief? But he knows that. He knows I can find out if he’s telling the truth. And he knows what I’ll think about Lucette Barnswallow. Second-rate alchemist. Not as fast with a wand as she thinks. Crappy rugby player. Dropped every pass I ever threw her way.

I get up. “I’m going home and to bed,” I say. “I had enough of this for a night.”

“You’ll be back tomorrow,” Fen says.

“Don’t bet on it,” I say, giving him a look of loathing. I turn away, then turn back, down my beer, set it on the table, wipe my mouth, turn away again and say, “Day after’s more likely.”

 

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