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1.

We have Vladimir’s to ourselves for a while, which is good, because after only a few minutes, Thyrssa wakes up and goes on the rampage. Audrey offers me clothes: a clean dress, some underwear and socks that fit, a pair of boots. The fact that they were previously worn by someone who died down here doesn’t repel me. Lucette’s clothes did not suffer quite as much as mine, because she was in front of me; still, she accepts a shirt and pants.

So we have a weird sort of celebration for the next hour or so. We can’t quite assume Vladimir’s is our safe sanctuary, but for now, everyone inside it (with the possible exception of our barman) is in on the secret. At least we’re no longer all in on the secret of what color my hair down there is. It’s almost the only hair I have that isn’t singed. Jan cuts off much of the hair on my head, which had been in a ponytail halfway down my back; Fenric then shoos Jan away and trims what’s left into a lovely do with an average length of about two inches.

While he does this, I play with the key in my new dress pocket and tell the story I just told you. The audience, basically, is: Jan and Fenric; Glee and Lali; Lucette and Zelin, putting in their two coppers’ worth when they think they need to; Gregorio, on his sixth or seventh or eighth beer; Audrey and/or Vladimir; and Gurth, Mr. Gurth Fembark, watching me with tired eyes and a funny smile.

“So how long do you think she’ll be upset?” asks Glee.

“Dragons have long memories,” I say, “that’s what Zing-Grey taught us. She says the smart ones have longer memories than the dumb ones but even the totally reptilian ones have long memories.”

“So we have the place to ourselves for a while,” says Lucette. “In that case, what do you think we should do with the key?”

The back door opens at this moment, and in tramp four paladins of various genders and various religious faiths. “Hoo! Haw! Ah yeah!” they all say. The Amazon among them, a redhead in minimal armor, probably an Athena monk or something, says, “A lovely day in the Abyss!” They stomp over to the bar and find that Vladimir’s already set up four huge steins of beer.

“I think,” says Zelin, “that Daisy should keep it. Anyone object?”

No one does. We split into groups: Jen and Fen get Zelin and Glee into a game of hearts, Lucette and Igbo look on, and Lali goes back to putting the moves on Greg. I find I’m sitting at the end of the bar nearest the front door, with Gurth.

“So you’re by yourself now?” I ask.

“Yep,” he says.

“When did this happen?”

“While you were out being heroic and burned to a crisp,” he says.

“What?”

“I guess I just told her I didn’t want to be her boyfriend anymore.”

“You what??”

“You heard what I said,” he replies with a laugh. “It wasn’t any fun. You knew. You could see. Anyway, it’s not like she’s in mourning dressed in black about it.”

We look down the bar. There’s no one in between us at one end, and her and Greg, laughing and flirting, at the other end. She waves at us and blows one or both of us a kiss. “Well,” I say, “maybe she has black panties on.”

He smirks. “You think she actually wears panties?”

I want to say, do you think I do? But of course he knows I’m wearing underwear: he and everyone else saw me put them on. Instead I ask him how he’s feeling.

“Pretty good, actually,” he says. “I’m kind of liking the idea of being unattached.” We clink beer mugs. He looks around, leans forward and says, “Want to go out with me?”

“Tonight?”

“Sure. Or whatever the next, um, night is. After we get out.”

I smile sweetly at him. “Sure,” I say. “I can’t wait.”

 

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