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8.

Understand that where we are is basically just big enough for the ten of us who are actually alive to stand in a little crowd, on top of a sort of floor formed by people who used to be alive but aren’t anymore. It’s toasty warm, all right—it may be January outside but I am sweating more even than during sex with Padric. The thought occurs to me and I half laugh: sex was the furthest thing from my mind.

Everyone looks at me. I look at them too. The short people are in the middle: me, Zelin, Glee, Othgar the Gnome, and Lucette (who is the tall one of the five of us). Around us are the taller members: Jan, Fenric, Gurth, Padric, and Lali. Lucette and Glee have their wands up and lit. I hold my wand close, between me and Zelin.

“Ready?” asks the Elf.

“Uh, yeah.”

“I’ve heard this a few times,” she says, “and I’m pretty sure it’s right, but if you say it and turn into a slug, we’ll have to rethink.” She clears her throat, and so do I. “Gafoog,” she says.

I flick my wand to the extent that I can between my chest and hers. “Gafoog.” We both look down. “I think I felt something. Maybe a little lighter?”

“I’d say hold your wand up,” Lucette advises. “That’s the direction you want to go, right?”

“And I’m pretty sure,” says Glee, “it’s supposed to be just one word. One syllable.”

“One syllable. Ga-foog.”

“I think it’s like g, f, u, g. Can I try?”

“Gfug,” I say. I point my wand up and intone, enthusiastically, “Gfug!” I shoot up off the ground and in about one second whack my pretty head on the slimy slanted ceiling right next to the hole we all fell out of. I figure out how to dial it back and settle in with my feet just over the heads of the warriors. It’s not walking on air; it’s more as if I’m supposed to be at a certain height off the ground, and when I’m there I’m without weight. My hair even floats a bit.

In a moment, Glee is shooting past me with a smile on her face, and then dropping back down again, going ow and holding her head. She winds up booting Padric—she wears big ass leather boots that come up past the knee, which I know because she also favors a fairly short skirt. He looks up to see what hit him, and appears fascinated, which makes me wonder what color (if any) her underwear are.

Lucette drifts up amongst us, looking dubious to the point of nausea, but settles next to me and smiles. “New spell,” she says. “Cool.”

“So if you’re done adjusting,” says Zelin from below, “would you mind—?”

I look down on the others—really, I love this spell. Anyway, I look down and the Elf is handing a piece of rope to Padric, who holds the end up to me. I drop a yard or two, then steady myself with a wand move that I really can’t describe to someone who is not a magic practitioner—sorry. I gently descend a couple more feet, squat down on the air and take the end of the rope.

Holding it in one hand, I use my wand to drag me up and over toward the door. Curiously, horizontal movement is a lot harder than vertical. Well, it’s only a one-word spell. Glee and Lucette give me a push toward the door, and this does the trick, although it propels them in the opposite direction.

This is already helping me understand all that stuff I learned and forgot about momentum and inertia and Balthazar’s Four Laws of Motion.

A quick rok! and a flick of the wand, and the half-secret door pops open inward. I step off of the air and into a low wide room that reeks of orc. There are no live orcs in there. There are a couple of dead ones, but not recent: probably casualties of the party they had before taking off.

I look around, then back out on the throng. Lucette and Glee are now gfug-ing the others one by one up to our level, using the rope just to help people with the horizontal stuff. In a minute, all ten of us are in the orc room.

“All right,” says Othgar, who is now the museum guide. “Here we have the orcs’ multi-use parlor. Off there, through the arch, is the kitchen, where they cut you up before they eat you uncooked. Over here are the barracks. And this,” he says, entering a room with a heavy, lockable door, which is standing open, “is the treasure room. Note its empty state.”

“Wait,” says Fenric, “how about—?” He finagles open the one small chest he finds in an open closet. It’s full of copper pieces. “Dang.”

“Sorry,” says Othgar. “You would be a thief, no?”

“I think introductions are in order, don’t you?” says Jan.

And she proceeds to introduce us all. It turns out that Glee fell in through the same trap as us, a day or two ago, and Othgar was captured in a skirmish and dumped in the same trap by some goblins who knew where it was.

“I guess the rest of my squad left me for dead,” says Othgar. “Harald was dead, whereas I was merely hit on the head.”

“I don’t even know,” says Glee, “if the others noticed I was gone. We had a sorcerer as well, and I think they sort of tolerated me as an apprentice or something. Maybe they were glad to be rid of me.”

“Was it Samuel of Tingwall?” asks Zelin.

“His name was Samuel,” says Glee. “Kind of a jerk.”

Zelin and Gurth exchange chortles. “That would be Samuel of Tingwall,” says Gurth.

“So,” I say to Othgar, “know the way from here to Vladimir’s?”

“Not very well,” says Othgar. “Only been there five billion times. Shall we?”

And indeed, from there, it’s down a stair, down a hall, around a corner, left at the four way, down another stair, past the doors marked MEN, WOMEN and MONSTERS, and we’re there. And we only see two dragons on the way down, and only one of them sees us. And it doesn’t quite manage to burn the back row into a crisp, though we all get to find out what burnt cloak smells like.

 

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