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2.

Zelin drops back to help Jan with the map, and Fenric moves up with me, and we march off in good formation and without complaining. We take the southward hall out of that first big room. It’s quiet until we’ve gone maybe a hundred feet and we come to a four-way intersection.

Quiet for Valen means the halls echo only a little. Quiet means you can actually hear the grinding of rock on rock as the hills shift, which is going on all the time, even though you don’t hear it so much when it’s drowned out by the mad war cries of orcs charging. Quiet means you hear lots of water in lots of directions, and a certain amount of lava in the lower levels. Quiet means a faint blend of ghostly wails and grunting yells of combat and the clang of weapons being forged and used and broken and reforged. Quiet means you hear a lot of your own boots. So do other things.

We get to the intersection of four halls and have a look around. I actually bought Fenric a compass for Yule, and he’s using it. He and Jan and Zelin are poring over the map, and I’m standing there with my wand stuck in between them lighting the scene, thinking maybe it would have been okay if we’d gotten another enchantress. Lali and Gurth are giggling and kissy-facing, which is disgusting and very unwise and I can’t see, politically, how I can get in between them and make them stop. Eleanor is looking down the west way, and Unwin is looking down the east way.

So of course it’s from the south way that, with a sudden chorus of screams, a troop of goblins comes charging. The map gets dropped, they pick it back up, I swing my wand around and yell trt sko, and a moderately sized fireball rolls off toward them. They back away from it, but it catches up with the front two and they go up in flames, with accompanying sickly sound and smell.

“There’s some’at coming from this way,” Unwin calls.

Lali comes up next to me and says, “I’ll hold them off till they start shooting, darlin’.”

Everyone else is still freaking out, so I say, “Eleanor, is anything your way?”

“I think it’s clear,” she says.

“Kay, let’s go, folks. Gurth, Fen, Jan, get down that west hall.” I back into the four way, wand wagging between south and east. Unwin backs into me, sword out. “Unwin—!”

There’s a clunk. Unwin goes, “Ow!” and ducks a little. He stands back up and faces east, as Lali is backing toward us from the south. The goblin troop is a little intimidated by her, and they can smell the smell of burnt goblin better than I can. Still.

“Okay, folks, let’s make our exit,” I say.

“You back away first,” says Lali. “What’s up your hall, Unwin?”

“I can’t—ow!” he says. “It’s throwin’ stuff.” We look down at his left hand. He’s just caught a rock the size of a rugby ball.

“That hit you on the head?” I ask.

“Yeh,” he says, throwing it back. “Jerk hit the same spot on me helmet twice. Man. I’m a bit dizzy.”

“Well, get it together,” says Lali. “Let’s run.”

And just as she says this, the goblins charge under a thin cover of arrows. And with a bellow, a troll comes lumbering down the hall from the east. We back just into the west hall, but I keep the two warriors from moving further. “Timing,” I say. “Timing… timing… now. Run!”

And we run. And a glance behind tells us—we all glance back at the same moment, three seconds into our dash—that the goblins have met the troll, and that they’re having a disagreement. We run on till we catch up with the other five.

I turn and look back east: the four way is a good hundred feet behind us. “Poj,” I say, waving the wand in a crooked circle. I put a few more waves in, and there’s a copy of that same troll, looking ready to rumble. “That should put off pursuit,” I say, “till they actually make contact with it and find out it’s just an illusion.” I turn around to the others. “So what have we got?”

“Stairs,” says Jan.

“Yeh,” says Unwin, “and a concussion, I think. Faddah, can you—?”

“I’m just a vicar right now,” says Jan. “Gla fron!” Jan touches his forehead just under his helmet. He winces, then smiles. “Better?”

“Loads,” says Unwin.

“Okay,” I say. “Well, that was interesting. I note with pleasure that we did not lose anyone.”

“We jolly well could have,” says Fenric. “Zelin, is this the way you came?”

“No,” she says, “I came from the south at that intersection, I’m sure of it. So, yeah, this will all be new.”

“Exciting,” I say. I’m feeling excited, a little, because suddenly I’m like a leader. I’m also scared stiff, for basically the same reason. Then there’s the lingering smell of burnt goblin. I did that. But I keep it together. “Okay,” I say, “let’s see what’s downstairs.”

 

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