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Vladimir’s, too, has a back room people can sleep in, which makes sense if you think about it. You’re far down into the Earth, beneath unimaginable tons of rock and fourteen levels of labyrinth. The Abyss is nearer than the surface: in fact, outside the back entrance there’s a ramp down into the notorious Level Fifteen, which apparently has a Hideous Altar and, a little further on, a Guardian Figure, both of which are there to prevent an escape of demons from the Abyss; that would be the moral and spiritual equivalent of severe acid reflux. You’re tired, you’re possibly wounded, you’re probably low on spell energy, and, by the way, you’re drunk. Naturally you’re going to want to crash somewhere.

The somewhere is a surprisingly small room, no more than twenty by thirty feet, off to the right of the kitchen. Audrey directs us there, and we throw down whatever we have for bedding and grab what we can for z’s. I cuddle with Padric; but even Lali can’t bring herself to get in some lovin’. After some hours, another eight people (including several dwarves and some sort of sylph or something) come in and we make room. Me being me, I can’t fall back asleep.

I come out and the place’s clientele has turned over. Now there are a couple of youngish blue dragons at a table playing backgammon, and a new gang of six adventurers (not including Gregorio, Gerald or Stacy, thank the Virgin) around our two tables. There’s a game of Parcheesi with a vampire, an evil high priest, and a black-skinned nude Amazon warrior. Their fourth member is the only one not definable by her outfit: a plain but pretty woman in jeans and a tee shirt. Must be a wizard. Zelin and Othgar are sitting at the bar, drinking wine, passing a bowl and conferring with Vladimir.

“So you’re Daisy,” says the barman. “Your Elvish friend has been telling me about you.”

“Really?” I reply. “What’s to say?” But they just laugh.

“Othgar was telling me about the layout down here,” says Zelin. “And Vladimir has been putting in his, what do you say? Two pennies?”

“That’s all it’s worth,” says the bartender.

“Oh, sure,” I say. “You’re a Guardian? What’s that like?”

“I am a Guardian,” he says with a sort of humble laugh. He reaches into his work shirt and pulls out a chain with a big skeleton key on it. “But just of this little zone around Vladimir’s.” He looks around as if afraid. “Vladimir and Audrey’s,” he corrects himself. He leans toward me. “I understand you are looking for Thyrssa the Black.”

“Uh, yes, not for me, for my friend,” I babble, my eye perhaps lingering on his key. He notices me look at it, and several thoughts rush through my brain knocking stuff over: a sexual innuendo (think about what a key does; do I admire his key? Etc.) and a suspicion that he knows what I’m actually looking for (which is very much a key and not a metaphor for anything).

He grins. I panic. But he says, “Perhaps you would think you could become a Guardian yourself, little enchantress?”

“Well, I, uh,” and at that point I run out. His laugh saves me from finishing.

“It is a very hard thing,” he says. What is that accent? I suppose he made it up himself. “Becoming a Guardian is much harder, much harder than you would think. Set yourself an easier goal. Say, Time Warrior. Ha!” The laugh is directed at Audrey, passing with a pizza.

“Oh, yeah,” she says. “So much easier being a T W. My husband is an endless source of hilarity, don’t you think? Here you are, dears,” she says, depositing the pizza, which is very deep dish and seems to have literally everything on it, by the two dragons.

“Thank you, dear lady,” one of them says in a snake-like voice. The other bows its big head politely. She smiles and heads back behind the bar, passing behind Vladimir and giving him a quick kiss on the lips. She stops, backs up and looks at me.

“You can do it,” she says. “I think you have it in you. I do.” She smiles at Zelin, then bustles back into the kitchen to make more pub grub.