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The next day isn’t the day. It’s pouring rain, and besides, both Lucette and I have to work. There’s always this day when the town of Insmoor sort of collectively realizes the orc war is over, and everyone rushes out to get healing potions and stuff for their gardens and all those love potions they ran out of during the siege and just generally go shopping. We do accomplish one thing. Zelin brings Glee by the shop about the second hour of evening, and this turns into a meeting.

“I’m so thrilled you even asked,” she says, once we’ve locked up and eight of us—me, Lucette, Fenric, Jan, Gurth and Lali, Zelin and Glee—are all ensconced on my bed and my floor. Cudgel, as per standard procedure, takes Zelin’s lap. “Do I want to go back down there? Yes I do!”

“What happened to the rest of your group, anyway?” asks Fenric. “Think we can recruit any of them? I’m not sure eight is quite enough.”

“Well, actually,” says Glee, “I did see some of those guys, one of the warriors is this Amazon called Enka, there’s a dark elf who’s some sort of monk. There’s Samuel.”

“The jerk,” says Zelin.

“Where did you see them?” Fenric asks.

“At Sleepy’s,” the brunette sorceress says. “They were with that new sorcerer Gregorio.”

“Did they have a girl archer with beautifully combed long brown hair?” asks Lucette. “That would be Eleanor. Who hates going into the dungeon, she just hates it, except that she keeps finding new, cooler people to go with. Was there another monk with them? Didn’t look like he was a real monk, more a pickup artist dressed like a monk?”

Glee, who strikes me as being pure as the driven snow and as innocent as a baby child, gets big wide eyes and a big smile and says, “Gerard! Yes! Oh how I long to kill that man!”

Lucette looks at me and says, “Did you ever sleep with that guy Gerard?”

“Me? Nope. You?”

“Show of hands,” says Lucette. “Come on, get ‘em up.”

I look around. It’s Fenric, Lucette, Glee and Lali. “Never got around to that,” says Zelin.

“Not missing much,” says Lali. “Not like—!” She slaps Gurth on the shoulder. He doesn’t look like he finds it all very humorous. Ha! Humorous. See what I did there? “That Amazon Enka,” Lali goes on, “she’s my sworn enemy. Actually she’s my cousin but my mom and her sister fell out and her daughters have it in for my mom’s daughters, you know how it is.”

Of course none of us do, but Zelin says, “And we think this whole group is headed for Vladimir’s and is interested in the Key?” She looks at Glee and asks, “Anyone told Brownie here about the Key?”

“No,” says Glee, “but just point me the way and I’ll have my brand new spell ready to go.”

“Whatcha got, Brownie?” I ask.

“Oh, I took Hold. And I finally got Invisibility, I got sick of waiting to find a ring.”

“You could throw it on all of us,” says Gurth, “and we could sneak on up on the dragon. We could walk right by orcs.” We sorceresses all roll our eyes. “Oh. It doesn’t work that way, right?”

“You lose your invis if you attack or bump into anyone,” says Lali.

“Yeah,” says Fenric, “we all thought of that, sad it doesn’t work. So, we have our crew, we have our objective, do we need any kind of plan?”

“I think we need to get to Vladimir’s and do recon,” says Zelin. “That is my humble opinion.”

“Okay then,” I say. “Tomorrow at Sleepy’s. Do we like early?”


And as it happens, we do like early. I hardly sleep for bad dreams. I don’t know. I feel resolved on the outside but clearly my subconscious is in turmoil. There’s Gregorio with the Key, there’s my friends getting skewered by orc arrows, there’s a dragon eating some of us and breathing fireballs at the rest, there’s a lot of running around in shadowy corridors with shadowy things chasing me, there’s Lucette and Zelin and Lali and Glee saying rude things about my hair or my choice of spells. There is, underneath those things, the fact that I don’t know what the hell this key is supposed to be or do.

There’s the fact that I want it. There’s the fact that Zelin wants it, and thinks it’s Important. There’s a basic dread, which we both share and which Fenric and Janet and Lucette at least are catching, of anyone else having it.

My last little nightmare is that the Key is sliding away from me down a slanted hall toward something or someone I fear, and Zelin is next to me, reminding me fervently how important, how Important the Key actually is.

I wake up as I’m sliding after it, wondering how a person sliding goes about catching up with a thing sliding.

“Jeez,” I say, sitting up. Zelin is sitting next to me on the bed, dressed in her undershirt, petting Cudgel. I jump out of my nighty (figuratively). “You stayed over?”

“Your cat wouldn’t let me go home,” she says. She gets out her bowl. “You look like you could use a light.”