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7.

That’s how we make it to Club Six. That’s how we make it somewhere, finally, without losing anyone.

Club Six is a dozen small to medium-sized rooms letting into one another by doorways whose doors have been removed. Various kinds of music and various colors of light flood the rooms and mix at the openings between. The wide passage we’ve been on ends in a wide low warehouse of a room, which smells of urine and vomit, and it’s hard to explain how comforting that is. On the far side of this room is an open double door with a reddish glow streaming out, and we make out figures outside the door: humans in armor, but also a couple of ogres and a half dozen orcs and something with tentacles on its face. This brings me up a bit short, but Zelin is reassuring.

“Don’t concern yourself,” she says. “They’re under a Word of Peace even out here.”

“That’s right,” says Jan. “I sense at least three faiths involved: Virgin, Valar and one of the Archdemons, maybe a couple.”

“Besides,” says Fenric, coming up to stand next to us, “they’re having a smoke. The ones that aren’t peeing. Either way, that’s as good as a word of peace.”

“I still don’t know about this,” says Eleanor.

“Me frickin’ head,” says Unwin. “I’m so sick of this place.”

“Let’s get you inside and get you a big ol’ brewski,” says Lali.

“Let’s get you inside, anyway,” says Eleanor, and she commences to drag Unwin toward the door. The rest of us follow.

And what I had thought was a darn good team immediately fragments. Eleanor and Unwin find the quietest corner and obtain the most medicinal items they can, which they apply to Unwin’s collection of concussions and lacerations, along with a healthy dose of Eleanor’s tender loving care. Lali and Gurth, who wander into the middle of the loudest dance floor in the largest room and commence to boogie. Then there’s Fenric and Jan, who disappear into the back rooms together, in deep discussion with certain shady characters.

I’m standing there between the first, relatively quiet room, and the second, which is long with a crowded bar running the long way, and which is filled with a sort of zany parody of music.

“Hey Daisy,” says a guy next to me, in a voice that’s trying to be both suave and loud enough to be heard. It’s my second-least-beloved fellow enchanter student. He’s nice-looking, fairly polite, possibly talented and sexually ambitious in the way all boys my age are, even the gay ones.

“Oh,” I say, “Gregorio.”

“You just got here? Time to party. Whoo!” He actually whoops; people (and orcs and ogres and so on) around us turn to look and whoop back. “Need a beer?” he asks helpfully. He has two, in fancy looking conjured glasses.

“Oh,” I say. I consider, but I can’t think of a reason not to, so I take one.

“So,” he yells over the music, “you’re an enchanter?”

“Enchantress,” I say absently.

“I am too,” he shouts. “I’m a backup on the sorcerer teams for the orc war, so I figure I’ll probably make sorcerer by spring. You gonna be working on the sorcerer teams?”

“Maybe,” I shout back. I sip my beer. It doesn’t suck horribly. “Okay,” I say. “See ya, Gregorio.”

“I’m working under Reginald Barnswallow,” he’s yelling, just as I turn to leave. I hesitate, but everyone on the sorcery teams thinks he’s going to be working closely with Lucette’s dad. Even Lucette thinks so, and even Lucette’s wrong. Reginald Barnswallow is going to be working closely with a bunch of secretaries and functionaries well inside the cozy walls of the Count’s Citadel while the sorcery teams are out fighting the other side’s sorcery teams amidst the snow and sleet, not to mention the magical weather effects. In any case, Gregorio isn’t paying me any actual attention. I make my escape.

In a small darkish room mostly filled with a bar, I spot an elf maid sitting at a tiny table with two chairs and one bottle of wine. I grab a mug off the bar and join her.

“Quite the party, huh,” says Zelin. I reiterate my idea that we’d seemed a great team till we got here. She says, “Yeah, we lack the unifying force of our feelings about Yanos and Barb.”

“I get the feeling that Unwin isn’t enjoying himself on this trip,” I say. “At least he’s not dead.”

“There’s always the way back,” says Zelin. “How’s the beer?”

“Awful, actually,” I judge, taking one more sip to make sure. Yes, my first judgement was clouded by the nearness of the flavorlessly handsome Gregorio. I put it on the next small table over, and Zelin takes my mug and fills it.

“In all honesty,” says Zelin, “I think our friends Unwin and Eleanor are going to return to the surface with us and we will never get them to come back.”

“But we come back,” I say. “Why is that, anyway?”

“Good question.”

“You mean you’re thinking of—?”

“Oh,” she says, “I think it’s fair to say that this is the furthest we’re going this trip. And later, if you come back down here, Daisy, I’m going to come back with you. And I expect your friends Fenric and, um, Jan, and Gurth and his Amazon lady friend, will also come back.”

“The lure of adventure? The treasure? The, um—?”

She takes a drink, savors it, then sips a bit more. “Fenric, treasure. Father Jan, adventure, I guess? Gurth and Lali, well, it’s more interesting than guard duty.”

“What about you?”

“Me?” She looks me in the eye. “Or you?” I challenge her eyes. She smiles and whispers, “Knowing that would be the key to knowing what I’m here for.”

“Ohhh,” I say. “It would be—it would be, wouldn’t it? Zelin, what is the—um, the Key?”

“I don’t know.” Drink. “I want to know.” She looks at me. “It’s the sort of thing I feel like I need to know.”

“Um, me too,” I say. We both drink. I’m still staring at her; I hope she doesn’t feel self-conscious. That there is actually someone like Zelin is an increasing source of astonishment to me. She spends a good thirty seconds staring into her mug. “Zelin,” I say. “Where are you from?”

“Aeraf,” she says. “In the mountains.”

“Along the Silontian border,” I say. She nods. “Zelin,” I say, “why did you come to Insmoor?”

“I liked it here better than there,” she says.

“You’d been here before?”

“Nope,” she says. She’s the first Elf I’ve ever heard use that term. “I thought the name sounded cool.”

“And Insmoor is better than Aeraf of the Elves?” But she just raises her mug, and we clunk our mugs together and finish them and she refills us both.

 

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