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5.

And so it comes to pass that Eleanor rejoins our cabal. I’m happy to see her, and I think, for various reasons, everyone else feels the same way. We know she shoots well enough; she can honestly say she has experience in the Dungeon; having an archer is like having a magic user with only one spell (but it’s a Death spell); I find it comforting to keep the gender balance in check. I should feel that way about Gurth’s Amazon date, and I sort of do. I can’t help notice that they’re dancing in a rather provocative way just now.

Whoa, was that me? Am I turning into somebody’s maiden aunt? Well, I say to myself, Gurth and his friend, or whatever, can do what they want, just so they’re ready to fight goblins when the time comes.

I find myself imagining those two in the front line. When Goblins attack. And they’re flirting and kissy-facing. And there’s Lali, or whoever she is, gawking while Gurth goes down. Now he’s getting stabbed repeatedly. Oh, seven or eight arrows too. Blood everywhere. And she’s just standing there gawking! Do something, you stupid Amazon! This is all your fault. I am so mad at her.

I shake it off. Fenric is leaning toward me. “Okay,” he whispers, “I’m gay and all, and you’re not, but you have to admit, that’s a nice-looking woman.”

“Sure,” I say absently.

He pulls back and gives me a straight on look. I smile at him and shrug. “Anyway,” he says, still watching me, “I really think we could use Lucette. Or someone.” I frown. “Daisy,” he says, “team. Right? You can’t argue we couldn’t use someone else. You work with her. At least ask her.”

“Okay. I’ll ask.”

“Promise?”

“I’ll ask! I promise!”

 

The next forenoon, Lucette and I are counting the take. It’s the second-to-last shopping day before Yulemas, and we’ve just hit that spot in the morning when the shop is empty for about two minutes.

“You’re going back into Valen Dungeon?” asks Lucette.

“That’s the idea. Want to come with us?”

“No,” she says.

“Okay,” I say, and recount the coppers I just counted. “There’s twelve,” I note to myself, “twenty-four, thirty-six, forty-eight: four shillings.” I put them in the penny niche.

Lucette decides to leave the counting to me. She glides around to the front, and starts, with surprising competence, noting what needs to be filled up and what we still have plenty of, and generally resettling the display items. She’s very good at this sort of thing. “What are you guys looking for?” she asks, without looking up. “Or is this just for scouts?”

“We are looking,” I say, and I take a moment to judge what she would be most interested in, and then a moment to decide if I want her interested or not, “for Club Six. Want to come?”

“Nope,” she says. After a few seconds, still not looking up, she says, “Is this you and your friends from last time? The thief, the very masculine priest girl?”

“The Elf, the warrior, a couple of others,” I reply. “Eleanor’s coming.”

“Oh, is she?” she asks, still not bothering to make eye contact. Because, you know, she doesn’t really care very much and she wants to make sure I understand that. Because, you know, I’m the one asking her to come along: she’s not asking me if she can come, that would be different. “She has a hankering to see Club Six? Or,” Lucette adds, still studiously not looking up, “is she interested in the Key?”

“I think she just got hooked on adventure,” I say.

“In spite of how bad you guys were the first time she went with you.”

“Almost as bad as you guys were the first time she went with you,” I say.

“And you’ve never been to this Club Six.”

“Obviously.”

“Because you’ve never been below the fourth level down, right?”

“As opposed to you,” I say, “because you’ve never been below the first level down.”

“Anyway,” she says, and now she looks up at me and gives her cute smile, the one that really is kind of beautiful but isn’t nearly as beautiful as she thinks it is, “I don’t think I’m interested.”

“That’s great,” I say.

“Sorry.”

“Think nothing of it. It’s fine.”

She walks over, subtle person that she is, faces me across the counter and says, now that I’m not meeting her eyes, “I know you wanted another magical person.”

I look up at her. “Actually,” I say, “”being totally honest with you, Lucette, I did not want to ask you. One of the others thought it was worth a try. We had this enchantress, Barb, you must have noticed her around Sleepy’s, well, she was pretty useless. And later? Turns out she was trying to sell the Lapis Circlet to the Wall wizards. You were there, you must have noticed. When you were getting in the way of us preventing her from selling it to the Wall wizards. So: all in all, I’d rather have another warrior, myself.” I put the last two stacks of shillings in their spot and put the extra coin tray back in the bottom drawer. We didn’t need an extra coin drawer till I started getting serious about the shop. And I have to admit, I’m good at this. And I have to admit, brain or no brain, Lucette’s contributed to our current glut of money. I give her my cutest smile, which is, no doubt, more sarcastic than pretty, and say, “I think your talents are much more suited to this kind of work than to going in the dungeons.”

She gives me a kind of snarky cat meow. We smile cutely at each other. Then we both burst out laughing. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I still picture myself on that bridge of stone over the Horrible Void, wielding my Wand of Power against the Dreaded Wizard Lucette, with Time Warrior rings on our hands.

 

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