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After a two-day rest, we gird ourselves for the return to the surface. Somehow or other Gregorio is tolerated in our midst. Zelin, Lucette, Jan and I confer out in the hall, and decide not to show him the Shaft (heh heh), but to take the Long Stair instead. It’s probably slightly less safe but it turns out to be fine. We do meet two units of goblins (the first runs away at sight of us; the second unwisely attacks and is unceremoniously hacked to death or laid out snoring) and then a youngish cave dragon (Lucette fires off a cold spell at just the right moment to neutralize its fiery breath, and then Lali and Gurth collaborate in its demise) before we get on the stair on the level above Vlad’s. The Stair itself only provides one moment of interest, when we are dangerously surprised by six adventurers who, though invisible, are nowhere near in our league and almost get themselves slaughtered just by revealing themselves to us rather than have us bump into them on the steps.

“Sorry,” they keep saying, the two warriors, two archers, one enchanter and one bard, “sorry, really sorry!”

We grumble at them and pass on. From the top of the Stair, on the third level, we get slightly lost before getting to the very gallery where Hurcus et al. died all those centuries ago last November. Just for old times’ sake, we get attacked by goblins, and this time I and Glee and Lucette and Jan and Igbo and even Gregorio just lay them out with ag and have done with it. In another two minutes, we’re out in the light of a March afternoon, the warm wind blowing snow off the ground into our faces.

We troop back to town and split up. Gurth goes off to guard duty; Lali goes off to Sleepy’s to pick up someone more substantial than Gregorio, who goes off to the Institute with Igbo and Glee and Lucette to sort of check on things; I take Zelin and Jan and Fenric to the Rose for beer and beef stew.

“Well,” says Fenric, “inevitably, what next?”

“I get to learn a second three-word spell,” I say.

“I get to learn a second three-word spell,” says Jan, “and if Father Byron calls me Sister one more time, I’m going to stuff his cross down his throat.”

We look at Zelin. She smiles and says, “I plan on watching you do all those things.”

“What I mean is,” says Fenric, “what are we going after next? And what are we going to use that thing Daisy has in her pocket for?”

“We are taking a long break from going after things,” I say. “We are not going to use that thing for anything until we’re very sure what it does.”

“Oh,” says Zelin, “someday you and I will be running down some dark hallway and someone will be chasing us and we will come to a locked door and you’ll pull that thing out and try it and it will work and we will close it behind us and escape while they pound on the door.”

“Just you and me?”

“Not necessarily,” she says, looking at Fen and Jan.

“Well,” says Jan, “I understand how Daisy feels, but I definitely have more to do in the bowels of Valen. I actually wouldn’t mind a peek in the Great Abyss. I understand it’s not of interest to the rest of you—well, maybe you, Zelin—!”

“I feel I ought to go there once,” says the Elf.

“I don’t,” I say.

“But for me,” Jan continues, “it seems like something I ought to do, you know, as a cleric, as a priest. Maybe I can talk Lali into coming with me. Or Gurth.”

“You can’t have Gurth,” I say.

We finish our stew and our mugs and break for the evening, and later that night, coincidentally, after a very nice quiet date, I have Gurth for the first time. And it’s very nice, really, it’s very nice, but it’s definitely not quiet.