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4.

“It’s shallow, you wimp,” says Jan. She pulls the arrow out and Fenric gives a very quiet whimper as she puts one of her soaked rags over the wound. “What was it?”

“I told you,” Fenric replies. “Orcs on the march. But apparently these ones leave a rearguard.”

“Stupid me,” says Zelin. “They’re already getting ready for the orc wars. They’re in training. They would be organized and they would leave a rearguard.”

“And they could probably smell Elf,” says Lali.

“Or Amazon,” says Zelin.

“So what do we do?” I ask.

“How many were there?” asks Gurth.

“Five or ten,” says Fenric.

“Quite the range,” Zelin says. “Narrow it down a little?”

“Aw hell,” says Lali. “I’m gonna narrow it down myself. Gurth, Unwin, you with me?”

“Of course, babe,” says Gurth. Unwin shrugs and pulls out his sword.

“Archer support?” The Amazon looks at the Elf , then at Eleanor.

Zelin nods. Eleanor looks perky and says, “Sure!”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, and Jan is saying basically the same thing, but the door swings open and Lali, followed by the other four, bursts into the next room. Jan and Fen and I are left looking at each other.

There are cries and shouts and the twanging of bows, and then the clash of arms and the splintering of wood. Our guys all have swords (or bows), so that’s a good sign. The twanging is high-pitched at first, but now I can clearly hear Zelin’s bow firing, a sound I can already recognize, just as, as of this morning, I know the sound of Cudgel throwing up: it’s actually a similar sort of noise. It’s pretty surprising how fast she’s firing (it’s also surprising how often Cudge can blarp in a given thirty second span). There’s a sudden ghastly end, with the unmistakable din of three orcs being slaughtered at once. Zelin yells, “Medic please. It’s over.”

We go through the door and find ourselves in either a long open-ended room or a wide hallway, extending north almost to the edge of my light, where it narrows to a passage into darkness; south, maybe thirty feet from the door we came in, it ends, and in the southeast corner there’s a stairway down.

Ten or twelve orcs lie dead, five with arrows in them (three green and two long ones from Eleanor’s quiver); two are completely decapitated. Unwin is sitting against the near wall, a hand over a wound in his shoulder. His legs are cut up and he has an arrow stuck in his chain neck guard. Lali has a few bleeding wounds on her arms and her bare legs—she doesn’t like her armor to be too restrictive, apparently. Gurth has a couple of arrows sticking out of his torso, but they don’t seem to have got very far in past his chain mail. Zelin has her bow shouldered and her long knife out; she has cuts on her left arm, which seems to be her dominant side. She gives me a grin, wipes the knife, sheathes it and goes to administer her favorite medicine to Unwin. Eleanor is unwounded but looks shaken.

Jan scurries to Unwin and starts in with gla fron, her heal spell, followed by some stuff she bought off my mom to sanitize wounds. Unwin doesn’t love it, but respects the result. “This is not a safe place,” says Fenric, which I would think was unnecessary except that everyone else seems to be making themselves comfy here. “Maybe we should move down the stairs?”

“Seems reasonable,” says Gurth. He pulls an arrow out, looks at it, throws it down, pulls out the other one. “The orcs were coming from there, so it’s less likely we’ll meet more of them or anything else.”

“Gurth,” I say. He looks at me and I wave toward the stairs. He’s pretty good at taking orders. We go to the top of the stairs and look down. I can see a solid-looking wooden door on the right. “Hey,” I call back to the others, “room down here.”

By this time Unwin is up and ready to move again. Zelin and Eleanor have been gathering arrows and lightly looting the bodies: Eleanor’s spirits seem buoyed by finding a pouch of silver and gems on one of the orcs. But they’re not reluctant to leave the scene. We transplant ourselves down the stairs and into what turns out to be a small but comfortable room, with a door into a closet and nothing else. It has a cooking grate with a little vent, just like Jorg’s room.

“Must have been a guard post,” says Zelin. “Honey, can you get the door?”

“What?” I say. I digest quickly. I turn to the door, Jan slams it shut, and I wave my wand, saying, “Paf nis!” My favorite spell. I turn, as the others are settling in. “Rest stop?”

“Yeh,” says Unwin. “I also got clonked on the head again. Mannn.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I probably need to rest and recharge my energy. What’s in the closet?”

“Huh,” says Fenric, checking it out. He pulls out a board and some tokens. “Parcheesi.”

 

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