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3.

It’s still raining in a lazy sort of way when we set off from Sleepy’s about the third hour of the morning on the third of March. The mist rising from the snow cuts the visibility to about five feet.

“You got that throw spell,” says Fenric as we pass through the suddenly laid-back South Gate. “Why not throw us there?”

“I could throw each of us about fifty feet,” I say. “At that rate, I’d be out of energy before we were up the first hill.”

There’s some more complaining, of course. Gurth and Lali seem to be even more at odds than usual: yes, they’re turning into That Couple. Then Glee sort of hits herself on the forehead, stops and gets an umbrella out of her backpack. There’s a little more complaining, but not from me, and pretty soon we settle into a march. Glee lets me share the umbrella.

Still, we’re all pretty soaked by the time we climb the last slope and pick our way through the ruins to the stair down.

There’s no one else in the place. At first.

So we’re forming up in the middle of that first room. There’s a dozen or so dead orcs and goblins and a couple of dead ogres. It’s Lali’s opinion, agreed to by Zelin and Gurth, that this was the result of a discussion of how the orc wars might have been conducted better. It’s the first thing Gurth and his Amazon girlfriend have agreed on all morning.

I get us all arranged: we’re going down the west way to the double wide hall and the idea is to take that as far as it will lead us, hopefully all the way to Club Six.

“Pity we can’t get up into the Shaft,” says Fenric, eying the ceiling, presumably in hope of spotting a hidden trap door that latches on the other side and is twenty feet above our heads in almost total shadow.

“Front row,” I say, ignoring him, “Lali and Gurth, if you can stop wrangling for a minute. Second row, me and Zelin. Third, Jan and Lucette. Fourth, Glee and Fenric. Lucette and I have the light. Glee, no light on your wand unless you need to look back.”

“That sounds great to me,” says Glee. I like her.

“Any words to say before we set off?” asks Lali.

Sek nyk min!” comes a male voice from the stairs, along with another male saying ag and a third guy throwing nyk eur goth. Hold, sleep, cease.

Kno eur!” comes from Glee and Lucette. I yawn at the sleep spell, which seems to have been tossed over all of us: it’s not enough to do me. So I give back better than I got, with my new “Ag sek min!

There’s the swish of a dagger thrown, and the sounds of Lali and Gurth pulling out their swords. There’s a thump near me. Jan tosses back a blanket ag. Several more thumps sound from the stairs. We all take a breath, and then lightning crackles toward Glee, who dodges. Lucette puts her all into lek ayn goth: the air crackles. Mind stab.

Then a light is kindled ahead of us on the stairs up. Its bearer is Eleanor of North Waldo.

 

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