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7.

I literally back up all the way out to the hall. About the time I get there, there’s a change in the sound from inside: the snoring sort of snorts and bumps. The ground shakes just perceptibly. Glee comes careening around the corner, bounces off the wall and charges into us.

We shut the door. I toss paf nis on it. Glee turns and does the same.

“This way, mates,” Othgar suggests. We follow him down the hall and around the next corner. We’re not in any order: we’re lucky to all be going the same way. Glee and I are in back; right in front of us are Lucette and Zelin. As we get to the corner, all four of us involuntarily look back.

The doors bow out observably. Then I feel like I’m slapped: my lock spell breaks. The doors fly open.

We all articulate our feelings with short obscenities. The Elvish word lenk has a distinct expressive power, for instance: say it slowly, then say it fast. See?

By the time you’ve done that, we’re halfway down the next hall. Behind us, a stream of fire fills the corner, and a hot breeze hurries after us. It buoys us along as we dash to the next corner. Othgar, bless his tiny heart, is standing in the T intersection waving us to the right and saying, in case we didn’t get it, “This way, move it, best hurry!” Falling in next to me he says, “We’ll see how long she stays interested, eh?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “How much further?”

We careen left around another corner. “Hold up, hold up!” Othgar yell/whispers.

Somehow this gets through to everyone. He pushes up to the front, where Lali and Gurth and Padric are passing the time fighting off a small group of attacking goblins. Lali is especially pissed off; the goblins get the idea and cheese it with only four dead.

“Guys, guys,” says Othgar, elbowing past Zelin. “The, um, what you’re lookin’ for right now is—!”

“Is it this?” asks Jan. He and Fenric are standing in front of what was a blank section of wall, but Fenric appears to be peeling back a sort of stony wallpaper to reveal a flat metallic door.

Othgar looks back at us. “Gather close, gather close,” he says, and we do. “Dragon got tired of chasing us?” he asks me.

“I think so,” I say.

“Excellent. Miss Glee Fredkin here must’ve thought better of taking anything, eh?”

“Oh, trust me,” says Glee, “that was the last thing I’d think to do.” She giggles.

“That’s funny except that it’s not,” says Othgar. He looks at Fenric. “Well, Mr. Smart Thief, open it.”

Fenric messes around a little and then finds a spot he can push in and another spot pops out and he pushes that in, and the door pops open about a quarter of an inch. He laughs.

“There you go,” says Othgar. “The Shaft. You’re extremely welcome, best get on, time’s passing and the day’s wasting away, must go, nice to meet, hope to see you again, we’ll have a beer, bye now, good day all!” He pushes past Lali, whose waist the top of his helmet is at, and hurries on around the bend.

We look at each other. “Well, let’s go,” says Lucette. “Like the little guy said—!”

So we pile in through the door. Fenric pulls it shut; I presume the stony wallpaper seals itself up again. We three enchantresses raise our wands: actually one of us is basically a sorceress now. We are in a small room with rungs carved into the stone all around all four sides, including above the door on the side the door’s on. There appears to be no ceiling.

“The Shaft,” several of us say.

“Okay!” says Padric. “We may as well start climbing!”

And we’re about five million rungs up when Lucette calls a halt. She waves her wand at Lali, who’s in the lead, and goes, Gfug!

And Glee and I do the same for Gurth and Padric, and pretty soon all of us are floating upward. It lasts just long enough for me to start worrying whether my magic energy is going to run out before we get to the top, and then we’re at the top. We all bob out into a medium-sized, low-ceilinged room, into the floor of which the Shaft opens. It’s lit only by our wands. There are assorted crates here and there about, as well as a pile of rocks near the Shaft, possibly for use on pursuers coming up the ladders.

There’s a trap door on the floor a little way from where the Shaft opens. Fenric pulls on its strap and we look down. Below us is a parallelogram of sunlight. It’s the bottom of the entrance stairs.

 

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