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4.

“Okay, stop, stop,” she says. “Stop! Parley! Peace!”

We stare at her for a moment. Then we look at each other. I step forward, back toward the stair. “You attacked us,” I say, truthfully.

“Nonlethal!” she says. “We didn’t shoot or anything!”

“Are any of you hurt?” asks Jan.

Eleanor looks down. “Ralphie,” she says. “He took a dagger in the stomach. He was ceased anyway.” She looks around. We move back to the stairs and have a look for ourselves.

Let’s see: Gregorio is held, standing there glaring out from his own reversed spell. Samuel of Tingwall is blissfully asleep, sprawled on the stairs. Jerk. Several warrior types are lying near him snoozing. Several more adventurers are huddled behind Eleanor, just out of the rain. Ralph, for it is he, is sitting on the step holding his stomach.

“Looks serious,” says Jan, “but not life-threatening. You really should go back to town and get that fixed up.”

“You’re not going to heal him?” asks Eleanor.

“What’s wrong with your healer?”

“Um, it’s Gerard, he’s—!” A bit up the stair, the monk is sitting holding his head and groaning.

“My bad,” says Lucette. “I like that spell.”

“You would,” says Jan. “Mind Stab? Seriously? Okay, Ralph. Fron.” She waves a hand at his abdomen. “That should get you back to Insmoor.”

“That’s all you’re going to do?” asks Eleanor, genuinely shocked.

“Eleanor,” I say, “what exactly was this all about?”

“What do you mean?” she asks, a little indignant. Yeah, get that emotion in there. Maybe it’ll help.

“You hate going into the dungeon. Yet you came with us, you came with Lucette, you came back with us, and now here you are with—you can’t look at Greggy here and think he’s one of the good guys.” I glare at Gregorio.

“Bitch,” he manages to get out.

“He needed an archer,” she says.

“What, to shoot at us?” says Jan. By now, she and Lali are eying Gerard as if choosing a part of him to rough up first. I note that the huddling warriors and archers have begun to move up the stairs and into the rain, presumably to straggle back in the direction of Insmoor.

“He needed an archer to shoot orcs,” I say. “But why did you go for it? That’s my question.”

“He said,” and Eleanor checks Gregorio, who doesn’t look her way, “he said we were going after something important.” She looks at the ground at Gregorio’s stupid feet. She’s so frickin’ cute I can hardly stand it. “Something we needed to keep away from you.”

“Me? Me personally?”

“Yeah,” she says. She looks down at her own stupid feet. They are quite lovely but she doesn’t look like she likes feet much right now.

“The Dread Sorceress Daisy?” I go on. “You swear again and again you just hate going in here, and yet here you are, and with these guys? And you say the primary motivation for this change of heart is the fact that Daisy Delatour was going to gain control of the Terrible Whatchamacallit from Hell?”

“Well, you and, um, her,” she says sheepishly, pointing a nose in Lucette’s direction.

“Yeah baby,” says Lucette. “I’m in the club. I was all ready to be really humiliated if you hadn’t included me in your roll of dishonor.”

“Eleanor,” I say. “Does this make any sense at all? I note Unwin isn’t here. Right?”

“No,” she says.

“Probably still in bed,” says Lucette. Eleanor slouches a little: yeah. She dragged herself out of Unwin’s embrace this morning, and all because Gregorio talked her into the idea that the Terrible Daisy was going to get the Terrible Whatchamacallit. I turn to Gregorio.

“What’s the thing here?” I ask him. “You were never in after the Lapis Circlet. I don’t remember running into you here at all before, um, I started looking for the Terrible Whatchamacallit. So do you know something, or are you just being competitive, or is someone whispering in your ear? Are you doing this for yourself or for someone else? I mean,” and I tap him on the nose with my wand, “taking me on is kinda stupid. Taking Lucette on is kinda stupid, and I’m starting to think taking Glee on is kinda stupid. I wouldn’t be pushing my luck with Fenric either if I were you, and the Dread Amazon Lali? Yeah. So what is it? What’s your motivation?”

He looks like he wants to spit at me, but this hold of his is pretty tight. He switches to a smile he probably thinks is sweet, snide and venomous. He manages snide. He presumably can’t think of a witty rejoinder, so he leaves it at that.

“Stupid women,” says Gerard from up the stairs. His next word is oof, as Lali, her hand on his shoulder, knees him in the stomach. He’s lucky she’s so tall.

“You need to reconsider your life choices,” Lucette tells Eleanor. “You too, Greggy. Gerard.” She gives Ralph the merest scornful glance, then turns to me and says, “Shall we?”

“Let’s,” I say.

 

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