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I am glum. I am also fourteen levels deep in Valen Dungeon, face to face with the need to go face to face with a dragon, and my entire inventory of tools and advantages consists of one three-word spell and a few twos and ones. Oh, I could brew up a love potion.

I’m sitting there holding my quarter of a beer. Zelin picks it up and sort of makes me drink the rest of it, and then she refills it. Lucette’s just staring at me. I look at her. She raises her eyebrows and looks at her beer.

“It could be worse,” says Jan. “Our rivals could be here by now.”

I put my head on the table. I’m hoping Jan and Lucette will let me be, but when I look up a minute later, they’re still staring at my head. “What?” I say.

“Don’t what me,” says Father Jan.

“Don’t what?”

“Do not what me. We need to face up to the situation. You do. You two,” he finishes, sharing his glare with Lucette.

“Daisy,” says Lucette. “You know what we have to do. You just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it, either, but it’s what we have to do, Daisy Delatour.”

“What? I mean,” I say, “ugh. Argh. Blergh.” I put my head down, then look up and find she’s grimly smiling at me. “You feel we have to go do something stupid ourselves.”

“No. No. I feel we have to go look into the situation and scope out the landscape and so on, ourselves. And I feel that you know it’s true and you’re just being Daisy.”

I grin. “That’s why you love me, Lucette Barnswallow.”

She rolls her eyes. “Leaving that,” she says. “Just the two of us?”

“I don’t think you want me,” says Jan. “I’ll wait here to heal up whatever happens to you. I think just the two of you might actually work.”

“No,” says Zelin, who has been sitting next to me all this time. I thought she was zoned out but I should have known better. “You two are not going anywhere alone except possibly the bathroom. I am going with you. Let’s grab Fenric too.”

“Oh, I don’t want this to be a whole production,” says Lucette.

“Me either,” I say.

“Well, tough,” says Zelin. “Up!” She gets up and we two little blond sorceresses follow. “Fenric,” she says: he’s playing a board game with three orcs. “Come on.”

“Oh,” he says, getting up: he’s starting to get used to Zelin too. “Can we—?” he says to one of the orcs. “I’m afraid I need to bow out.”

“Nar, Farknorp,” says the orc to one of the others at another table. “Come play the thief’s part. You get to be the blue.”

“Ar,” says Farknorp, coming over. “But he only has three armies!”

“I have two fleets there and there,” says Fenric. “See? It’s a fine position.” He joins us at the door. “All right,” he says. “Recon?”

“Lots of luck,” calls Lali from the bar. She’s holding forth to Glee, with Gurth sitting quiet and docile between them.

We wave and take off past the bathrooms and up the stairs. The atmosphere is not encouraging. The air smells of sulphur dioxide and feels a bit ionized; there’s loads of pentons, but not the kind of penton flux that makes my magic nerves feel great. And just as we get to the T intersection, there’s a blast from down the hall toward Thyrssa’s lair. It’s a sort of roar-whoosh, heavy in the bass but reaching up into the high notes too.

And then another, as in a different tone.

And, a few seconds later, another. And a few seconds later, another. Another. Another.

“They’re blasting at each other,” Lucette whispers, as though that’s even necessary.

“I think,” says Zelin. Blast! Wait for echo to die down. “I think,” she says, “they’re just bellowing.”

“Who?” I say. “The cave dragon and Her?”

“Who the hell else?” says Lucette.

Several bellows later, Fenric says, “So, wait for them to tire of their little debate, or go back down and have a nice beer in that nice tavern down the stairs?” He sort of drifts back halfway down the steps and lingers there. He’s so gay. I don’t mean it in a bad way. Not at all! But he is.

“I think,” I start. I feel a tingle. I sniff. Lucette’s doing it too, and now Zelin is looking around without moving her head. Her hand closes on an arrow in the bag at her belt. All the real archers wear their arrows at their belts, and now I see why.

My hand grips my wand. I whip toward the other direction and hiss, “Xu!

And there, what do you know, stand nine people. And I find I know seven of them.

Nyk eur goth!” shouts Gregorio. “Sek nyk min!” states Samuel of Tingwall. “Kno eur!” says Lucette, almost in the same breath as them.

Zelin pulls her arrow out with an exaggerated wave: she’s sort of waving off Sam’s hold spell. And then she puts an arrow in his wand hand, square in the palm. Meanwhile, Greggy is failing again against his own Cease spell.

That’s when Stacy, Anastasia Kappa herself, steps out and throws her new sorcery at Lucette, along with an insult: “Sek nyk min, bitch.”

Lucette stands there as if held. Everyone else pauses to watch. A pair of dragon bellows insert themselves. Then Lucette laughs and thrusts her wand, hissing “Lek ayn goth!” Nasty spell, mind stab. Stacy doubles over in pain, then the real pain hits and she falls into a fetal position, retching.

There’s a bolt of lightning, almost before Gerard, from the shadows, calls it down with his Mng na. Lucette cries out and crashes backward, her hair smoldering.

Ag sek min!” I cry at their archer. It’s Yanos. He goes down: he’s snoring before he hits the floor.

Back there, there’s a big Amazon warrior and another archer, a tall girl: it is indeed the lovely Eleanor. They look concerned, and they should be. From behind me, I hear Lucette’s voice croak out ag, and the two of them roll their eyes and fall to the floor asleep.

But that leaves me and Zelin facing Gerard and this dark elf monk. And the dark elf monk curls her lip and hurls her own sleep spell at Zelin, who chooses this moment to fail to resist and fall down the stairs.

I take in a breath, and when I let it out it’s going to be something great, but Gerry starts first. He’s halfway through mng na again when he stops.

There’s a dagger in his stomach. And the next spell is just like my sek ag min, except it’s in Glee’s voice, and it’s directed at the dark elf monk girl. I look around for my next victim.

Glee steps up next to me. Lucette is picking herself up, smoldering; Fenric is already using a cloth to tenderly wipe the burned hair off her face. Sammy and Gerry have made off, leaving a trail of blood, mostly Gerry’s. Greggy has gone with them. Five others are in the hall sleeping. There is only one of them left. It’s Igbo, who is so black of skin and clothing she’s almost invisible. I see her eyes and teeth, and her pale palms, when she holds them out and says, “Peace, Daisy. I’m not into this.”

I take a breath. Behind me, Jan is also looking into Lucette. “She’ll be fine,” he says. “She looks and smells worse than she is.”

I show Igbo my own smile and my own palms. “Peace, Igbo,” I say. “Fancy a beer?”

“Do I,” she says.