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7.

Suitably armed, about five minutes later, we three ladies come out of the ladies’ room. We have three glasses: I’m carrying the tall one with the goat milk, Lucette has a little one filled with gin, and the Elf’s got a medium-sized, cool-looking glass with absinthe and clove. The cat pee and spider legs are in the milk, which I drank down a little first to accommodate them.

So here we are, climbing the stairs, stepping through, no doubt, a centuries-old veneer of dried blood and vomit and trampled guts, eyeballs and toe bones and brains, of Goddess knows how many warriors, monks, priests, archers, druids, orcs, goblins, ogres, trolls, wyverns, axe-beaks, manticores, gryphons (gryphins? griffons? griffins? grypheons?), giant rats, giant frogs, giant ants, giant squirrels, just plain giants, mind frickin’ flayers, dragons of all colors, not to mention petite sorceresses and smug little elf chicks, me in my off-white peasant dress, Lucette in her cute top, necklace and black skirt, Zelin in her elf girl duds, each of us armed, basically, with a glass of liquid. Fortune smiles on us and we are not accosted by a gang of norkers or a gaggle of carnivorous geese.

Maybe thinking these very thoughts, Lucette stops us at the top of the steps, waves her wand across me and says par ouag. I know what it is, but am still a bit surprised when my arms disappear in front of me. I look down and there’s nobody there, there’s no body there. She does it to Zelin, who giggles, the sound emerging from seemingly thin air; then she does herself, and we’re all invisible.

“This won’t fool a dragon,” I whisper.

“It might just buy us time,” she whispers back. “You good?”

“We’re good,” we say.

Left at the four way. Left again at the T. The cave dragon, off to the right somewhere, is taking a well-deserved nap. Into the ghouls’ chamber, but the ghouls have been fried to a crisp; two of them are detectable as lumps of something once not quite dead; any others that had been there are just marks on the floor and walls.

“This must be where the dragons had their discussion,” says Lucette.

“Shush,” I advise her.

We come to the black wall with the door up a step. It seems very quiet, here and all around. We have arrived at the party, invisible ladies carrying drinks. I suppose we all smirk. We all listen.

“Snoring,” mutters Lucette after some seconds. I look toward her, but I don’t see anything (of course) and I’m afraid to make a sound. Telepathy would sure be useful in a situation like this.

But “a situation like this” isn’t something I plan on having to ever plan on.

Thyrssa is asleep. Not expecting visitors. Naturally, being Thyrssa, she doesn’t lock up.

I raise my wand and touch the middle of the door. The wand tip appears for a moment. The door swings open with a slight tinkling. “Shesh,” I say. The tinkling stops. Lucette whispers, “Nice spell.”

The two of us lead on. Zelin hangs back a step or two. Snoring, definitely. A hot breeze, in fact.

We get to the end of the hall, and peer around the corner. I can see the gold shining. I can see the racks and shelves and pegboards, I can see a bit of that gold-spattered black tail, I can see a couple of small, orbital piles of gold and silver.

I can see the table. I can see more necklaces, gems, coins, goblets, medallions, coins, bars, rings, circlets, coins, ingots, coins. And there, in a little space of charred wood, in the firelight of Zelin’s dream, I see it: a large but otherwise ordinary-looking key.

It’s actually on a string, but not anything fancy, a bit of twine rather than a gold chain. There is absolutely nothing about it, not even its size, which would suggest it’s valuable. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just Madame T’s trunk key.

Maybe I’m the Mayor of Semvov. And it’s the key to the city.

We eyeball the situation, but we’ve already, I’ve already done all the planning one could possibly do for a situation like this. As if there is ever going to be a situation like this that isn’t, in fact, this situation.

I put my goat milk glass on the floor. It appears out of my invisibility. They get the idea and put their glasses next to it. I take the gin and pour it into the goat milk. I pour back some of this into the little shot glass, and then take the absinthe and add it to the rest of the goat milk. I pour some of this back in the absinthe glass and add the bit from the shot glass. I take up the absinthe glass, the medium glass, and place it on the table next to the key.

No move from the dragon. I don’t even look.

I lean back into the hall. The big glass is steaming a bit.

I take it quickly but without spilling. I step into the room, almost on the tail. Now I look at the dragon—my goddess she’s enormous. Enormous doesn’t even come close. And black, set off by all the blotchy gold and silver melted onto her, a fortune in itself just stuck like chocolate frosting on a kid’s face. How about all the gold and silver piled on the floor, hanging from the walls, dripping from shelves, stuck to everything—? No. Toss. The glass. Now.

Her head, seen from over her left shoulder in sleep, moves a little to the left. She lets out a sleepy little sigh.

I swing the big glass, letting it go at the end of its swing. I do a good job, spraying it across her upper body and neck, finishing with the head. Oh, whoops. I hit her in the head with the glass.

Well, it’ll all work out. I grab the key, pull its string over my head, and turn. We run into each other but stay invisible and can’t see each other to get untangled. Zelin extricates herself first, Lucette and I start after her, and halfway down that little hall we hear Thyrssa’s rage. The world fills with noise, then heat pushes the noise out, then we get both. We tumble forward on a wind from the sun, our hands around our heads.

I am in flames. I’m flying and rolling and tumbling through the air, through the narrow corridor and out the door, rolling on waves of flame. Bounding off the walls, I land in a ball and spring to my feet, covered in thin soot, some of it still burning. I desperately try to shake and throw it off.

That thud behind me, and that whoosh: it’s not till later I figure out that’s Thyrssa finally succumbing to my potion.

We’re still invisible. We run, bumping down the walls, through the Burnt Ghoul Room. Zelin, in front, runs smack into a lone goblin and is suddenly visible. Out comes her hunting knife, and snicker-snack, the goblin’s a dead goblin. We charge on, through the four way, down the stairs, past the bathrooms.

The place has largely cleared out in the brief time we were away. Glee and Igbo and Jan and Fenric are playing cards. Gurth is sitting by himself at the bar, close by the entrance. Lali is at the far end, apparently trying to pick up Greg’s spirits a bit. We three ladies come to a halt.

“Gotta use the restroom,” says Lucette. “Barely held it in that far.”

“I got it,” I say. “Lucette. I got the—I got it.”

“I would hope so!”

Zelin saunters into the middle of the room and looks around. Even visible, she’s not especially obvious. She looks back at me.

I step up next to Gurth. “Hey, big boy,” I say. “Want a surprise?”

“Daisy,” says Zelin from the middle of the room, in a warning voice.

I realize I have dirt and ash all over me. I start brushing it off. Gurth, who can’t see me, reaches out and his hand collides with my shoulder.

I straighten up. I look down. I’m visible. I’m not wearing anything. My dress has burned off. Even my underwear did not survive the conflagration; my hair isn’t looking too great, for that matter. I’m standing in the middle of a room full of people I know, and I’m not wearing anything, except for one thing. Everyone, including Audrey, is looking at that one thing, or somewhere near it.

“You did it,” says Jan. I look down: the Dread Key, its twine largely burned away, is glued by ash and sweat to a spot between my boobs.

 

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