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We take the west hall. It’s so quiet I start to think that the bad things have all slept in. The passageway is ten feet wide and almost square; I give Gurth and Jorg room by hanging back half a step, in my own sort of Row 1b. As far as light’s concerned, it only means their huge shadows are angled forward on the side walls; we can see what’s ahead exactly as well as we could if I were walking out in front by myself, which is: not very well, really. I’m sure what’s ahead can see us much better.

I like these guys. Gurth is quiet and Jorg is absolutely silent, aside from his boots and his occasional burping and farting.

After thirty or forty steps, after passing four or five rough wooden doors, the passage comes to an abrupt 90 degree turn to the right. We bunch up, look around the corner, confer in whispers. “Are you at all concerned with how quiet it is?” I ask Janet.

“Should I be?” she asks.

“Same distance down,” says Yanos, after a short conference with Zelin, his elf archer, “and we should find a door on the left.”

So we take the right turn and push on into the blackness. It looks exactly the same, but it’s different. Perhaps there is just a tiny bit less light here than the tiny bit of light there was in the last stretch of hall. My wand light, blue to white, should take care of that. But I’m keenly aware that before, I could look back and seen, through the ranks of my comrades, a room from which you could see up the stairs to daylight. Now, looking back would only get you a view of the corner, carved out of the damp black stone of the Earth. Not that I freak out. I am not on track to freak out, and besides, there are these seven other people trudging along with me. But the fact of the darkness settles into my heart, which literally feels heavy in my chest. Still we trudge, my wand light wavering out ahead of the two warriors.

“Door,” says Gurth all of a sudden. And there is a door indeed, in the wall on the left.

“What’s through there?” asks Yanos “Barbara, can you—?”

“I sure can, peachykins,” Barb replies. While a little part of me reruns that sentence to make sure she actually called him peachykins, she steps up to the door and intones, “Gos shok.

She twirls her wand, and something separates from her lit wand-tip. It looks like a large marble, but it has an iris and a pupil on one side. She directs it down toward the bottom of the door, where the crack is large enough for it to fit through, and that’s what it does.

“So?” asks Yanos after waiting a whole two seconds. “Is it the stairs?”

“I don’t think so,” says Barb. “Are they right away, or is there some hall or a room first?” She and Zelin and Yanos all stand there blinking at each other. Barb finally adds, “It’s pitch black in there.”

“So what did you expect you’d be able to see with your roving eye?” asks Zelin.

“I didn’t know it’d be pitch black in there! And I wasted energy. This spell costs, you know. Spells cost.” With a little tsk of disgust, she twirls her wand (a very nice one with a gold band) and dissolves the spell.

“Couldn’t you have known it was dark in there?” asks Zelin.

Barb looks at Yanos. I think she’s about to throw herself weeping into his strong arms. He sighs and gestures to Jorg and Gurth. “Can you two be bothered to open the door?” he asks.

Gurth looks at Jorg, who grins and gestures him to stand back. Jorg puts his shoulder to the door, backs up a few inches, and throws himself into it. The door bursts open. Gurth grabs onto Jorg—so do I, but I weigh about a tenth what Jorg does. He manages not to fall on the floor. We pull him back into the hall, and the door, having swung 180° and hit the wall, now swings back shut.

One second later, there’s another wooden thump. From the middle of the door, the point of something sharp protrudes.

“Crom,” says Jorg. “Holy bleep,” says Gurth. I say something along that line myself.

“It’s a spear head,” says Gurth. “Either there’s some really big guy in there who doesn’t cotton to visitors, or there’s some sort of spear-chucking machinery, in which case, let’s not make wagers on whether it automatically reloads.”

“Thanks,” says Jorg.

“The question is,” says Fenric, “could this all have been handled better?”

“What are you saying?” replies Yanos.

“Nothing, brother, nothing at all. Shall we move along?”

And twenty steps further along, we come to another door on the left-hand wall. We listen to it, quiet as church mice in a church with a large and attentive cat; we tap on it and jiggle it; we discuss it in whispers. Fenric, looking bored, waves us aside, gives the door one more listen, then opens it just enough to slip through, which he does.

His voice comes through: “By the Gods! If only you could see what I’m seeing! It’s just too—!” He flings the door open. He’s standing a step below our level. He’s now at eye level with my scalp. “It’s a stairway down,” he concludes.