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IX. Club Six

1.

So Lucette is a no go, and it’s Gurth Fembark, of all people, who does our recruiting. And there we are at Sleepy’s, on a warmish morning a few days after Yule, eating piles of sugary pastries and swilling tea: myself, Jan and Fenric, Zelin and Eleanor, and Gurth and Lali and another warrior named Unwin. Lali is the tallest of the group, and is wearing a long tunic of chain mail over leather pants and big boots; she carries a two-handed broadsword but generally only uses one hand to swing it. Unwin is the other warrior from the group that we met coming back from Valen that long ago day when we were going to Valen for our first time. I remember that Gurth had slash wounds on his arm, and Unwin had a head bandage. He’s got that covered this time: he has a full steel helmet with chain down the back and sides of his neck and a hinged two-piece jaw guard. He plays with it while we eat and drink.

“Yeh,” he says, in a Thomasport slum accent, “saved up fer this buggah, sh’d keep me from gettin’ me bell rung again.”

“You haven’t been in since that time?” asks Fenric, who still only wears leather coat and pants and suave boots.

“Right disahstah that was,” says Unwin.

“It really was,” says Eleanor. She looks at me. “Are we going to actually get anywhere and do anything this time? You know all my experience in these things is—! Oh. I just had a thought.”

“What’s that?” I ask, keeping my sarcasm to myself.

“What if I’m the one who gets shot fourteen times and bleeds to death on the first level down this time?” She laughs.

“Don’t think twice, dear,” says Unwin, patting her hand. “I’ll jump in front of ya.”

Unexpectedly (to me, anyway) they lean across the table toward each other and kiss. This stimulates Gurth to do the same thing, but Lali takes his head in her two big hands and makes sure it’s she who kisses him, and gets full service from it. It’s deeply exciting and revolting and leaves me an emotional wreck. I look up and Fenric meets my eyes.

“Don’t even think it,” I say.

“What? No. I was just,” and he smiles, “noting your reactions.”

“What reactions?”

 

Then we’re out into the weather. It snowed right after Yule, six inches in town and a good foot in the upland manors. Here, south of town, it might be six inches but it’s blowing around enough to act like three feet. But the wind is mild, and half the snow that hits us melts on contact. The Sun is out, so, soaked though we all soon are, we’re singing as we march down the south road, bend to the east toward the mountains and climb up onto the barren table land where Valentina once thought to plunk down a castle of evil. The castle now gone, there’s nothing to stop the wind off the mountains, and we soon turn into walking icicles. The singing stops and is replaced by sniffling. We hustle up to the swath of exposed basement, and without pausing to take it in or scan for survivors, we run for the cover of the stairs down.

We’re at the bottom, in the big (fortunately empty) room, before we think to organize ourselves. It’s much warmer in here—a bit above freezing with no wind, but it seems like a summer afternoon. Mist rises from our clothes. Everyone looks at everyone else.

“You do it,” is all Zelin says.

“What? Okay.” I scan them. “Okay,” I say. “Gurth, and, um—?”

“Lali,” says the Amazon. “Of the Hill Sisters!” She and Gurth laugh as at a private joke.

“It’d be a pity to separate you two,” I say, “so yeah, you guys in front. That means Unwin in back, um, I guess let’s put Eleanor back there?”

“Oh. Good,” says Eleanor. “Perfect.”

“Me and Zelin second, Jan and Fen third, you two can map.”

“Grumble grumble,” says Fenric.

“What are you grumbling about?”

“Being in the third row. It’s fine, I just need to grumble about it.”

“Don’t worry. You get door opening duties. So. Before we form up. Um, warriors, could you just keep an eye out while we hold council? Gurth to the east way, Lali to the south, Unwin to the west. Okay?”

“Leaders,” says Fenric, “don’t need to ask if it’s okay.”

“I wasn’t asking you if it was okay. I was telling you it’s okay. Okay?” He grins and shrugs. I look at the others. “So we’re going to the sixth level down. Do we go the way we know or try a new way?”

“I think we try a new way,” says Fenric. “Elf girl, didn’t you come up that south way?”

“I did,” says Zelin, “and I don’t remember much about it, I was in a bit of a hurry, being by myself. So yeah, I’d love to do that.”

“Does it seem a little quiet here today?” asks Jan.

“Quiet is good,” I say.

“Just let’s not get used to it,” says Fenric. “We have come in here and not found any treasure, we have come in here and not done what we meant to do, but we have never come in here and not lost someone.”

 

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