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2.

We are a bit too stunned to stop them, stupid though the idea seems in retrospect from, oh, ten seconds after they leave. The rest of us have gathered around that one far table. No one else is in the place; the hill trolls have left, and the lone warrior’s gone off to the sleeping room. Vladimir himself is studiously ignoring us, doing his daily maintenance on the spells of protection. Still, we’re talking in low voices.

“For the record,” says Fenric, “it’s unlikely we could have stopped them, or accomplished anything by offering to go with.”

“Glee’s not stupid,” says Lucette. “She won’t do anything rash. As for Lali—well, that girl must be charmed. Because I don’t think she has the brains that the Gods gave ganders. But Glee’s not stupid.”

“So,” says Gurth, “you think it’s okay that I let them go without me.”

“I think it’s okay that you let them go without you,” I say.

“Okay,” says Gurth. “Can I ask a question that might sound kinda stupid? There’s this, uh, key. I get that. But what does it do? What does it, you know, unlock?”

“We don’t know,” says Fenric.

“No,” says Zelin, “but Daisy has some sort of idea.”

“Me?” I say in my squeaky voice, the one that I hate.

“Yes, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m thinking of. Now’s not the time to act innocent. Tell us what you surmise about the Key from your long research?”

“My research wasn’t that long. I just—!”

“You know as much about this thing as anyone we have access to. True?”

I blink. I take a few seconds. I say, “Look, this is way beyond my actual understanding. I just turned eighteen, right? I’m an alchemist apprentice thingy. I just got my first three word spell. This is,” and I glance toward Vladimir. He’s just picked up an empty pot and gone out into the back room. “This is time warrior stuff.”

“What. Is it?” asks Lucette.

I lean forward. “There are all these back passages,” I say in a whisper. “There are all these ways around, and someone put them there, or opened them up or something, so they can get around in the back ways. You know.” I look around. They’re all staring at me. “You guys are making me nervous,” I say.

“You’re frickin’ making us nervous,” says Lucette.

“Anyway,” says Zelin, looking up. She holds her hand up: I hear Vladimir banging around back there. He turns and goes back out, and she puts her hand on the table. “Passages,” she says, in that weirdly low voice of hers, “around the Wall of Time and that type of thing.”

“So,” says Fenric, “it’s a key to one of these passages.”

“I think,” I say, “it might be a key to all of those passages, some sort of master key.”

“You know this?”

“I don’t know anything,” I say. “But if this is important—!”

“And you think it’s important,” says Lucette.

“It’s important,” Zelin and I say together.

They go back to staring at me, though Lucette stares at Zelin some too. “So you know about this how?” she asks. “No, it was a dream. Is that it?”

“I’ve been having the dream for years now,” says Zelin. “I’ve had the same dream like twenty times. A room with fire in it, and a wooden table. And this key. It was the most ordinary thing ever, like it was reminding me where I left the key to my flat, except that it kept happening. And no one in Aeraf ever locks their door. It’s kind of annoying, actually. Anyway, I asked my, uh, aunt, who’s a lore master, and she wasn’t very interested. But after I had the dream in Silon, and then I had it here? I knew it was important. And then Daisy heard something about it. From you.”

“I heard about it from Yanos,” says Lucette. “And apparently so did Gregorio. I have no idea where Yanos heard it.”

“This dream,” I say, “it was just telling you where the key was. It was showing it to you.”

“Daisy,” says Zelin, “how many times have you had the dream you had? About the woman with the brown hair tied back?”

“Once,” I say. “But it was really vivid.”

The door to the stairs opens, way across the room from us, and we all jump, but it isn’t Glee and Lali; it’s a group of service orcs. They nod at us and take spots along the bar. We all take deep breaths.

“Well,” says Fenric, “anyone got an opinion on spring rugby?”

“I think Priory is going to whup the other religious teams,” says Jan.

“Of course you do. Thieves’ Guild versus Assassins’?”

“Assassins’,” says Lucette, “unless you guys man the scoreboard. Institute would win every game if they let us use magic.”

“Are you very worried?” I ask Gurth.

“Kind of,” he says.

“Kind of?”

“I’m super worried,” he says, “but I have mixed emotions or something. Does that make any sense?”

“I don’t know. Explain.”

He finishes his beer, then pours another from the pitcher and drinks some of that. The others prattle on. Gurth looks at me with those big blue eyes of his and says, “Lali. She could get herself killed so easily. But somehow she never does.”

“I know, I—!”

“I mean,” he goes on, “I am really careful, she thinks I’m a frickin’ coward, but—!”

“But I worry about you every time we go up against something,” I say. “I worry about you every time we go in the dungeon. I don’t worry about her, I guess I figure she’ll always manage somehow, or she’s charmed, but I worry about you. I really do, Gurth. I—!”

“I worry about me too,” he says. “But now I think, why is it I think nothing could happen to her? Something could happen to her. It could happen to any of us.” We stare at each other. He leans forward, like he’s telling another big secret about the Key, and I lean forward too. He opens his mouth, and some seconds later, he says, very quietly, “It could happen to you, Daisy.”

We continue staring at each other.

The door flies open and Glee and Lali come running in. “Whoo hoo!” shouts Lali. “That was invigorating!”

“What happened?” asks Fenric.

“We, um, went in the door,” says Glee. “Then Her Ladyship chased us back out again. That’s it.”

“Did you find out anything?” asks Jan.

“We found out we run real fast when someone’s breathing fire at us,” says Lali. “Hey Gurth! Get over here! I deserve some servicing for that!” And Gurth picks himself up out of his chair and goes over and lets the Amazon neck with him a little while she waits for Vladimir to hand her a beer.

 

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