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3.

We troop along after the orc column, and the darkness troops along after us. I’m the only light in the party, so I hold my wand above my head and hope we’re the only ones who see it. The way zigs and then zags, and the orcs march right on, past a certain door on the right where we stop and gather in a clump.

“Shall we argue about whether to use a spell to see what’s on the other side?” asks Fenric.

“Since I don’t have a spell like that,” I reply, “let’s not. You’re a thief, right?”

“Observe,” he says. He clears Fred and Ed away from the right side of the door, and plasters his back to the wall there. Sliding to the door, he pulls it open a crack, then just enough to peer in. Then he slips through, and then he opens the door from the inside. “Nothing.”

We stare at him. Gurth pulls him aside, and Janet steps up, her cross raised. She’s saying a prayer in the Virginal. It sounds rather threatening for a prayer. The ghouls, three of them, which had come up quite quietly, fall into a hysterical meeping as they retreat against the wall, where they get stuck: they can’t seem to find a way to escape further.

Jan advances on them, raising her voice, holding her cross out. The one in front stares pitifully from the bulging eyes on its hairless mucus membrane of a face. Its mouth works as if it’s trying to repeat after her. She raises her voice again, and suddenly the thing in front of her sort of bursts, sending a thin shower of ichor across us. Jan falls back, clearly exhausted. Gurth and Fred make short sword-work of the other two ghouls. We all take a couple of deep breaths.

“No frickin’ treasure,” says Fred, poking the paltry remains with his big sword.

“Uh, hey,” says Ed from the back. “Got a wyvern coming up the hall.”

We wheel around, and we can see he’s halfway out in the hall. We don’t see a wyvern. “Well, get the hell in here and shut the frickin’ door,” Yanos suggests. “Daisy. Lock that door. Use your big new spell.”

“Right-o,” I say with loathing. Ed shuts the door and I address it, flick my wand and say, “Paf nis.” I’ve been up nights practicing it. It works the first time.

“Sure that’ll hold it?” asks Gurth.

“It’ll hold,” I say, “if your wyvern doesn’t try to knock the door down. Which it won’t, if it doesn’t sense us, and it won’t sense us if we move on. Right?”

We take another breath, even though the air in here is no summer breeze. “All righty,” says Fenric. “Shall we?”

Around the corner, down the stairs, through the square room. “Was that body here last time?” I ask.

“I don’t think so,” says Zelin. She kicks it: not a ghoul or a zombie. Just a fresh corpse.

Out into the perpendicular hall. To the right. Growling noises in the distance; if they’re far off and we can hear them, how loud must they be? Then, ahead of us, shouts and cries: it sounds like someone’s staging the Battle of Despre down the hall, somewhere in the Stygian darkness. Ah, the door, the Jorg Memorial Bedroom door. We rush to it, give it a perfunctory listen, and charge in, and throw our stuff down on the floor like tourists arriving at the inn after a long ride.

Fred gets the door solidly shut, and I lay my lock spell on it. Then I turn around and hold my light out in the middle of the room. The panel to the closet is open. Bones of a large man are strewn about. The cooking grate looks much used.

“Jorg,” says Gurth.

We take this all in for some seconds. “Was never a sepulcher so tight,” quotes Yanos from some old poet, “to keep out all that would have a bite.”

“But usually it would be worms and that sort of thing,” says Janet. “Not—whatever.”

We take it in a little more. Then I start pushing the bones off to the back, saying, “Sorry, Jorg, I love you and I miss you but we need a place to sleep.”

 

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