, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


We retreat to Vladimir’s, evacuating our sleepers. Fenric and I come back for Eleanor, but we leave the others—the Amazon warrior’s frickin’ huge, and apparently she’s a blood enemy of Lali; I’m not sure why we would want Yanos down there with us; and the dark elf chick just looks great slumped out here. The bellowing continues behind us. Those two have some issues. I’m glad they’re talking things out.

“Snag the table way in the back,” I say.

“Screw that,” says Lucette. “Snag the sleeping room. No one’s in there.”

“Actually,” says Audrey, heading for the game table with fish and chips and two pitchers, “try out the back door, it should be clear and,” and she deposits her burdens and pulls me and Lucette together with Zelin to whisper, “the guardian radius extends out there about a meter and a half from the door. It should be nice and quiet, dears.”

She swerves away behind the counter. More people are coming in: well, two bone demons and three dwarves, followed by, of all things, a lady centaur. “Back door’s over there,” says a familiar voice next to us: Othgar the Gnome is sitting at the bar.

We look, then start over toward the little space where bands supposedly sometimes play. There’s a small door back there, small enough that I’ll have to bend to get through. I stop when we get there: there are seven people in the group. It seems like a lot. Me, Lucette, Zelin: check. Fenric, Jan: okay, sure. Glee: why not. Igbo?

“Daisy,” she says, “I do not know for sure what you look for this far down, and I do not need to know, but my former companions have their theories about that, and they are looking for it too. Do you wish to talk about this?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Out in the hall, I guess.”


So we try the back door. It doesn’t budge at first, so I try rok on it, and it still doesn’t budge, so it occurs to me that it’s just a sticky heavy door, and this time, with me and Lucette and Zelin and Igbo all leaning on it, it flies open and bangs against the wall of a wide grungy hall with a low ceiling and just a small amount of light coming from nowhere in particular. We step out into it and let the door swing shut behind us, which it does, not as if on a spring but more like it just prefers it that way.

We look up and down the hall. To the left, southward, it extends a long way and eventually turns to the left. It seems to be going down a ramp, and it seems to be letting a reddish, fiery light come up the ramp. There’s a stiff warm breeze from that direction. I can’t say exactly what the sounds are, or the smells, but I don’t like them.

To the right, northward, the hall immediately turns left and heads steeply up a ramp. According to my internal map, it should come out somewhere behind Thyrssa’s place, but I’m not optimistic that it connects to a back door of any useful sort, and besides, what I want is near the front door of her apartment, and that seems hard enough.

One thing about this place: sound seems to die here. The faint noises from below must be far from faint down here. The sound of the bellowing battle: if we hold our breaths, which we do at first, we can just make them out.

We gather in a clump to the right of the door. Zelin, Goddess bless her, starts filling her pipe.

“What I want to know is,” says Lucette, looking at Igbo while talking about her, “and pardon me if this sounds repetitive, but why do we trust her?”

“Igbo,” I say, “what do you think Gregorio knows, and what was he planning to do about this? Was this all his idea?”

No,” she says, emphatically. “No, it was that archer guy. It was all his idea. What is this thing you are looking for, I don’t know, but Ya, er, the archer? He thinks he knows what it is, and he thinks you know just where it is, and he is very desperate to get it before you do.”

“Gregorio’s just on for the ride?”

“Gregorio,” says Igbo. She frowns. Then she opens that tiny mouth and says, “Gregorio is stupid. He is nothing. That is why you flatten him every time you go against him, yes? Samuel, that,” and she uses what must be an obscenity in her native language. Zelin raises her eyebrows and hands her the pipe, which she takes a pull on and hands to Lucette.

“He’s a jerk,” I say.

“Big time,” says Igbo. “He wants only to be a big wizard. These two monks, I don’t know, they creep me out,” which sounds creepier in her accent. “Gerard is creepy, and the other, the dark elf, she is dark elf creepy, right? The others, they want adventure. But—!”

“But what did you want?” asks Jan.

“Me? I want to see, what it is like down here, you know? I never went below the first two levels before. I feel like, I feel like I went in a bubble into outer space, I look around and find myself somewhere I think I could never survive by myself and I start to wonder why I came here and how I’m gonna get myself out. But it’s not going to be with them.”

“So,” I say, “you think Yanos is the big mover? He’s the one with the bright idea?”

“He’s the one,” says Igbo, “who thinks of all this. And I don’t know if he even knows what it is about, but I think someone thinks to hire him to get this thing, whatever it is.” She leans close to me and asks in a whisper, “It is a ring? A gem? What?”

“No, no,” I say. “You’ll never believe it.”

“You don’t want to tell me.”

“No,” I say, “I don’t want to tell anyone I don’t have to tell. I want to get this thing over and see—!”

“Listen,” says Zelin.

We hold our breaths again. All we can hear is the faint sound of tormented spirits wailing from below.

“I don’t hear anything,” Lucette, of course, says.

“Exactly,” I say. “The dragons have settled their differences.”