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Getting back into Vladimir’s requires the rok spell, as it turns out, but we only figure this out after all six of us put all our might into pulling on the door handle, and then, just for the heck of it, put all our weight into pushing the door even though we know it opens out. We give pulling one more shot, then quit, and that’s when I try rok, and the door pops open.

“Sometimes it’s the simple answer,” says Glee. “Say, the place is getting crowded.”

“Hey,” I say, “it’s Gregorio.” We stand there in a little clump, staring at him. He’s sitting at the bar, at the end closest to us (and farthest from the front door). He’s by himself.

“I’m gonna go talk to him,” says Lucette. “Daisy, you’re coming with me.” She turns to Zelin. “Just us, okay?”

“Sure,” says Zelin. “Come on, you guys, let’s get that last table.”

We take positions on either side of our target. I elbow between him and some sort of minor league evil priestess with an acne issue; Lucette gets the open end of the bar. Gregorio ignores us. He lifts his beer and Lucette takes it from his hand and puts it down again. He looks at her blankly. I poke him and say, “Where are your friends?”

“What friends,” he says, without any sort of emotion one way or the other.

“Aw, Greggy,” says Lucette, “it’s so sad to see you so sad. Why the long face? Samuel get mad at you about the arrow in his hand? Tell him he can keep it, we’ll buy our elf friend another one.”

“Samuel,” says Gregorio. He laughs slightly, then shakes his head. “He’s a jerk.”

“It’s not a unique observation. Okay. Gerard? Yanos?”

“They’re gone.” He laughs. “Especially Yanos.” He reaches for his glass. We both put our hands on it. He gives Lucette a vulnerable look. “Can I have my beer?”

Lucette looks at me. I say, “Just answer one question. Um, wait. Two questions. One: What do you mean, especially Yanos?”

“He’s not into it anymore,” says Gregorio. “He’s a little burnt out.” He laughs, then stops, then laughs some more. “Burnt out,” he mutters.

“I’m guessing the dragons got him,” says Lucette.

“Jeez,” I say. “Okay. Clarifying question—?”

“Dragon,” says Gregorio, seriously. “Singular.”

“The cave or the black?” asks Lucette.

“Actually,” says Gregorio, “if you’ll let me have a drink, I’ll tell you the whole thing.” We both sort of shrug and take our hands away. He slugs down the second half of what is at least his second beer in the last ten minutes. We lean against the bar on either side. We get up real close. “So me and Gerard and Samuel get out of there after that spell battle,” he says. “Nice work, there. Can I have another beer?”

“Sure, dear,” says Audrey in one of her comet-like passes, and ten seconds later he has his third beer.

“So Gerard heals up Samuel, and we sort of bandage up Gerard, and then we, I mean I, try to wake up Leyran, she’s the dark elf, that three-word sleep is pretty tough. But it’s loud and smells really smoky and I guess that helps rouse her, and then we rouse Yanos and Enka, she’s the warrior. And Leyran heals Gerard and we’re, you know. Kinda good to go.”

“And you went?” I ask.

“No, no, we argued about it. Leyran and Samuel, they both want out of this whole thing, they take off. Enka goes with them. So does Gerard. He’s a jerk too.”

“No argument,” says Lucette.

“But Yanos is like, we’re so close, man, let’s just go look. He’s, er, he was, so persuasive.” Gregorio laughs and cries (actually cries) and then he laughs a little more.

“Okay, we know about that,” I say. “So what were you looking for?”

“Ah, who knows,” he says, and my heart sinks a bit. Then he shakes his head, says, “Some sort of key or something,” and drinks half his beer while my heart buoys back up. “Says Thyrssa the Black has it. He only guessed that because he knew where you guys had gone.”


“He was freakin’ paranoid about you two,” says Gregorio. “He had this weird fascination about sorcerers, magic people. You know I’m a wimp for magic. I mean, I can do it, but you guys both, you guys each have more punch than I’ll ever have. I should be an alchemist, not a spell chucker. What was I thinking?”

“Hey, alchemist’s harder than you think,” I say.

“So, on with the story,” says Lucette.

“So I figure, what the heck. I didn’t have any spell power, because of what your spell did to my spell. But he didn’t care. I don’t think he really ever understood about magic.”

“Except that he wished he was born with some,” I put in.

“Yeah.” He rolls his eyes, then shrugs. “So we sneak down there and we get the door open, because that’s easy, it doesn’t require any spell power, and he slips in and I’m about to follow when she sticks her head around the corner and just gives him a blast.” He takes a drink, then another. He shakes his head. “She was ready for us. She was ready for someone.” He looks at his clothes. “I came through pretty well, huh? My cloak’s a mess, I left it there. My boots are, well.” He turns on his stool so Lucette and I can see what he has on his feet: nothing. He’s wearing soot for socks and shoes. The rest of him looks fine, considering it’s him. I’m sure he looks better than Yanos.

“Are you sure he’s dead?” I ask.

“There’s no doubt,” says Gregorio. “That dragon filled that hall with fire. Crinkle crinkle crinkle. He crinkled rightup like a leaf.” He laughs.

“Your plans?” asks Lucette.

“Might stay here till I die of old age,” he says. “Might try and get out after I’ve been drinking here for a month or two. Maybe I’ll get killed by orcs and eaten. Maybe stomped by giants. Maybe a purple worm’ll swallow me whole. At least I won’t go crinkle crinkle and smell bad.” He laughs and then finishes his third beer. He laughs some more.

“You’re a gas, Greggy,” says Lucette. “Life of the frickin’ party. Come on, Dais, we got stuff to talk about, you and me.”