Chapter 6: Three ways out

VI Three ways out

 

1.

 

I enjoy two weeks of perfect attendance at college: my wand’s intimate encounter with Yanos occurs in the middle of this stretch. Lucette seems to be losing interest in school, however. Where she used to come to all her classes and flirt with slightly older male students right through when the prof started talking and again just as soon as he or she ended, now she’s missing every other day. I’m keeping an eye on her, of course, not that I want to.

 

Lucette Barnswallow is short, meaning she’s about my height. She has at least twenty pounds on me, and I don’t mean that in a catty way: she wears it well, no doubt about it. She has very pretty blond hair. She has a deeper voice than I do, an alto perhaps, and she can flirt like no one’s business. But she’s no alchemist, and that’s apparently what she’s supposed to be studying. So I become a regular in Stintsing’s lab. I help her out. Hey, I want Lucette to succeed. I want her to open up a nice upscale shop in, say, Travishome or Having Hall.

 

While I’m helping her clean up a spill, I innocently ask what she’s going to be doing this weekend. It’s Market Day already—the weeks before Yule just fly by, don’t they? She got plans? A date with one of those older boys?

 

“I don’t have any plans,” she says, rather too quickly. “I’m, ah, going home for the weekend. To help. Um, Dad has a cow giving birth.”

 

“Really? You live on a farm?”

 

“Oh yes,” she says, “Manor of Angbor.”

 

“You take care of the cows? You milk them and stuff?”

 

She laughs. “Oh, yeah, all the time, except when I’m here. My sisters do a lot of the work.”

 

“How many sisters do you have? I’m an only child.”

 

“Three, and two brothers, I’m the second, Eldred’s a year older.”

 

“Eldred Barnswallow, huh? Where’s he live? Can’t he help out?”

 

“Oh, he’s, um, in the army. He’s in, oh, you never know, he might be in South Land for all we know. So that’s my weekend plan. Go home and birth a cow.”

 

I change the subject. And I make sure she’s got her potion well on the way to being what it’s supposed to be. And then I excuse myself down the hall and find Professor Shmoke in his office.

 

“Hey, Daisy,” he says, “come in! Question about the Leodian Diaspora?”

 

“No, actually,” I say, pushing the door shut behind me. “Your granddaughter is Lady of Angbor, right?”

 

“Julia,” he says. “She was running a whole province on Phumah, but she wanted to come back home. Frankly, between us, it was a bit much for her. Got in trouble with the local politics. No local politics in Angbor Manor. Just sit back and rake in the money from the export crops.”

 

“You know Eldred Barnswallow? He lives there, right?”

 

“He does,” says Shmoke. “Julia set him up with the place right next to the family holding. We’ve, ah, they’ve been expanding, the goblin wars haven’t been as bad lately, not like it used to be. Heck, when Vera and I lived on the Manor, we got besieged every stinkin’ year. One year it was so bad we called it the Year of Deprivation, we were really down to what we could scrounge. Roasted rat, it’s not that bad if you’re hungry.”

 

“I can imagine,” I say. “But now, with the cash crop.” The cash crop is cannabis sativa; they bake it into hashish so it’s easier to ship, and it goes out to far off worlds. It’s said that an Insmoor stamp ups the price by ten percent, and an Angbor stamp ups that by twenty percent. “Anyone raise cattle at all?”

 

“There’s some who milk cows,” he says, “but mostly that’s out in the West Plantations west of Insmoor, the cash crop’s not so great there.”

 

“Barnswallows have cows?”

 

“You mean the birds, or the farmers? The Barnswallows’ land is too good to waste on pasture. Hey, Reginald Barnswallow? Lucette’s dad? The guy the Count brought in to run his team of sorcerers? Milk cows? I don’t think so.”

 

 

 

Fortuitously, Fenric comes into the shop that afternoon. “Your mom around?” he asks, leaning over the counter close. I am not concerned that he’s going to try and kiss me.

 

“Yeah, she’s out on an errand. If you know what I mean. But she swore she’d be back for dinner. If I made dinner, that is. Why?”

 

“Well,” he says, leaning closer and looking around.

 

“Lucette’s gang is going in tomorrow,” I say. “Maybe tonight, if they’re insane.”

 

“Um, tomorrow, I heard,” says Fenric. “How did you know?”

 

“I’m observant. Okay. Can we get people together tonight? Get off, oh, between midnight and dawn? Steal a march on her?”

 

He grins. “You’re gung ho, aren’t you?” he says. “Yes, by all means, let’s steal a march on her. If they’re not insane, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be.”

 

 

 

2.

 

What’s really surprising is how quickly this stupid idea goes into effect. Here we are, about three hours after midnight and about a hundred hours before it’s officially my birthday, and we’re huddled outside Sleepy’s. Jan and I are passing out bags with food in them: a cheese sandwich, two apples and four molasses cookies each. I’ve had one hour of sleep.

 

We are: me, Janet, Fenric, Yanos, Zelin, the doughty Gurth, and Gurth’s two acquaintances, whom I will always think of as Fred and Ed. Fred is squat and broad, and carries a massive plank of sharpened pig iron that he calls a sword; he’s probably the only one in the group who could lift it. Ed is a little taller, but not as tall as Jan; he’s wiry and he carries a short sword. They’re both stoners, in a way that Zelin, who smokes as much as anyone I know, could never be.

 

We’re pretty bundled. For once, I have left my peasant dress hanging from a peg in my room with all my other two peasant dresses, and put on my dirty-work trousers and a tunic, with my winter coat over. Everyone’s got a warm hat, some under metal helmets. Gurth’s got a heavy cloak with a hood, which he has pulled over a cute little ring helmet which has a skull cap underneath to keep his hair from tangling in the rings. Yanos looks like an Ice Barbarian, with the funny hat and inside-out fur skin coat and big ass boots, but he ruins the look with a hefty scarf.

 

The toil up the road out of town to the ruins is the sort of thing there’s little to say about, except that one spends the entire time wishing one was safely inside the dungeon, into which I have never gone without seeing someone I know die.

 

So we get there and hasten to get inside out of the wind. There’s no sign of daylight, and it’s starting to sleet. With a final burst of speed, we get out of the final burst of unpleasantness: a gust of rain that chases us down the stairs. I slip on the fifth to last step, and skid into the big first room on my butt slightly ahead of Fenric and Gurth.

 

Three small goblins are standing there over a bigger goblin they’ve apparently killed. They slaver, raise their scimitars and charge me.

 

I wave my wand. “Ag.” They come up short, crumple to the floor and commence to snore. “Jeez Louise,” I say to them. “Seriously?”

 

“I’m staying out of your way,” says Gurth. “You’re in a mood.”

 

I glare at him, then at the others, who have now slouched to the bottom of the stairs. “Okay,” I say. “West hall. Front: Gurth and Yanos. Next: me and Zelin. Then Jan and Fenric, with the map. Then, um, you two,” I finish, waving my wand toward Fred and Ed, who cower a bit.

 

They all look at each other. Yanos says, “Why would you put an archer in front?”

 

“Because I want to be right behind you.”

 

“You’re still admiring my rear end?”

 

“That must be it.”

 

“It sounds very reasonable,” Zelin says. “Let’s fall in. Hey, you two,” she called, addressing Fred and Ed, “keep an eye behind, will you?”

 

“Zelin,” says Fenric, “I’m fairly sure no one was on the road ahead of us or behind us, and you can see for miles out there.”

 

Yanos interrupts to ask, “Are we going to go or not?”

 

“So go,” I say, following with a metaphor equating him with a part of his anatomy.

 

And he goes. Yanos and Gurth look at each other, and then Gurth, with his replacement sword, and Yanos, with his newly-bought crossbow, take off for the west hall side by side. Zelin and I look at each other, her with her longbow and me with my walnut wand, and fall in behind them. I hear Fenric and Janet chatting behind us.

 

From the back row, I can hear a muffled rendition of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” until Fen and Jan shush them.

 

 

 

For a long time, we don’t have to map anything. For a fairly long time, we don’t see anything other than a few bats and possibly blind cave moths. We pass the wooden door with the spearhead still sticking through it, and then find the door to the stairs down ajar. We come through the square room and the crack-like passage. Yanos turns and hisses, “Will you shut those guys up back there?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Bossy-pants,” I hiss back. I turn and hiss, “Will you guys shut the heck up?” This brings about the final demise of Ed and Fred’s song. It also, now, allows us to hear the sound of singing from other marchers: the harsh voices of service orcs, the relatively disciplined military veteran cousins of the goblins. Gurth and Yanos back up a bit, so there’s a good eight feet of the crooked passage between us and the wider hall beyond. Yanos turns and points to the right with his thumb.

 

Gurth points at the light of my wand and mouths, “Lights out.” I let my wand light dim to almost nothing, then lower it till Gurth’s girth completely hides it.

 

“All the way,” Gurth hisses. I roll my eyes and drop my light to nothing.

 

Ten seconds later, the dulcet tones of orc singing and marching reach a crescendo. I think they’re doing the Dance of the Pink Daffodils from Spigmister’s Ballet of the Fairy Princess. We tense up, the eight of us, in the dark. But they’re not coming this way. They pass, from left to right, and march on, ten or twelve rows of maybe five each.

 

I wait ten more seconds, then mutter, “Fifty or sixty.”

 

Gurth waits another five seconds and then turns and says, “I know, right?”

 

“Shall we?” asks Yanos. “We’ll be traveling in their wake, if you mean to head for the room where we met the umberhulk.”

 

“Yes, we shall,” I say, relishing being actually asked what we should do.

 

 

 

3.

 

We troop along after the orc column, and the darkness troops along after us. I’m the only light in the party, so I hold my wand above my head and hope we’re the only ones who see it. The way zigs and then zags, and the orcs march right on, past a certain door on the right where we stop and gather in a clump.

 

“Shall we argue about whether to use a spell to see what’s on the other side?” asks Fenric.

 

“Since I don’t have a spell like that,” I reply, “let’s not. You’re a thief, right?”

 

“Observe,” he says. He clears Fred and Ed away from the right side of the door, and plasters his back to the wall there. Sliding to the door, he pulls it open a crack, then just enough to peer in. Then he slips through, and then he opens the door from the inside. “Nothing.”

 

We stare at him. Gurth pulls him aside, and Janet steps up, her cross raised. She’s saying a prayer in the Virginal. It sounds rather threatening for a prayer. The ghouls, three of them, which had come up quite quietly, fall into a hysterical meeping as they retreat against the wall, where they get stuck: they can’t seem to find a way to escape further.

 

Jan advances on them, raising her voice, holding her cross out. The one in front stares pitifully from the bulging eyes on its hairless mucus membrane of a face. Its mouth works as if it’s trying to repeat after her. She raises her voice again, and suddenly the thing in front of her sort of bursts, sending a thin shower of ichor across us. Jan falls back, clearly exhausted. Gurth and Fred make short sword-work of the other two ghouls. We all take a couple of deep breaths.

 

“No frickin’ treasure,” says Fred, poking the paltry remains with his big sword.

 

“Uh, hey,” says Ed from the back. “Got a wyvern coming up the hall.”

 

We wheel around, and we can see he’s halfway out in the hall. We don’t see a wyvern. “Well, get the hell in here and shut the frickin’ door,” Yanos suggests. “Daisy. Lock that door. Use your big new spell.”

 

“Right-o,” I say with loathing. Ed shuts the door and I address it, flick my wand and say, “Paf nis.” I’ve been up nights practicing it. It works the first time.

 

“Sure that’ll hold it?” asks Gurth.

 

“It’ll hold,” I say, “if your wyvern doesn’t try to knock the door down. Which it won’t, if it doesn’t sense us, and it won’t sense us if we move on. Right?”

 

We take another breath, even though the air in here is no summer breeze. “All righty,” says Fenric. “Shall we?”

 

Around the corner, down the stairs, through the square room. “Was that body here last time?” I ask.

 

“I don’t think so,” says Zelin. She kicks it: not a ghoul or a zombie. Just a fresh corpse.

 

Out into the perpendicular hall. To the right. Growling noises in the distance; if they’re far off and we can hear them, how loud must they be? Then, ahead of us, shouts and cries: it sounds like someone’s staging the Battle of Despre down the hall, somewhere in the Stygian darkness. Ah, the door, the Jorg Memorial Bedroom door. We rush to it, give it a perfunctory listen, and charge in, and throw our stuff down on the floor like tourists arriving at the inn after a long ride.

 

Fred gets the door solidly shut, and I lay my lock spell on it. Then I turn around and hold my light out in the middle of the room. The panel to the closet is open. Bones of a large man are strewn about. The cooking grate looks much used.

 

“Jorg,” says Gurth.

 

We take this all in for some seconds. “Was never a sepulcher so tight,” quotes Yanos from some old poet, “to keep out all that would have a bite.”

 

“But usually it would be worms and that sort of thing,” says Janet. “Not—whatever.”

 

We take it in a little more. Then I start pushing the bones off to the back, saying, “Sorry, Jorg, I love you and I miss you but we need a place to sleep.”

 

 

 

4.

 

It’s not a quiet night in the hotel room. In fact, it’s probably day outside. We take four watches, and each watch sees something try to get into the room. I get the last watch, with Zelin, but since it’s my lock, I wake up every time someone tries to break through. It’s dismal, but somehow, in spite of some goblins, a couple of ogres and what must be a smallish, youngish dragon, I get enough slumber to restore my incredible wells of magic power, which were in fact more than half depleted just by using two Lock spells.

 

And then I wake to the pleasant sensation of Yanos prodding me with his boot, as if I might be dead. I roll away and then up to a kneeling position before he can prod me further. I hear him and Zelin and Janet talking. I open my eyes and see Gurth lying on his back, his hands under his head on top of his pack, smiling at me.

 

“Morning, sunshine,” he says.

 

“Or whatever,” I reply.

 

“I’m gettin’ up, I’m gettin’ up,” I head Fred or Ed saying. I stand up, then look down at Gurth, who sort of shrugs and starts to make himself vertical too. He seems very cool about the whole thing except that he had his cloak over him for a blanket, and it slides off as he stands, revealing that he’d taken off his pants, and, I guess, he really needs to pee or something.

 

“Gurth, jeez,” says Jan, coming up next to me. I find I’m staring.

 

“Oh, uh,” he says, bending to grab for his pants. This takes several tries. I’m so tempted to spank him on the rear end. I resist, and am rewarded by the sight of him corralling himself into those pants. I’d forgotten or not noticed how tight they are. He giggles nervously and says, “Um, I kind of need to step out in the hall.”

 

“Yes, well, sorry,” says Yanos with authority, “we don’t have a latrine as such.”

 

“It’s okay,” says Zelin, “he knows about the facilities.”

 

“As in, there aren’t any.”

 

“As in,” says Zelin, “unlike you, he doesn’t carry his facilities around with him and pee his pants when he gets a good fright.”

 

While the elf and the archer glare at each other—one thought they were such good friends, too—Ed says, “Come on, dude, let’s go water the hall.”

 

“Check it first,” Yanos admonishes. “Daisy. Are you awake finally? We need you to let us in and out, you know. So we can use the facilities.”

 

I sniffle at him and go to the door. Laying my hand on the handle, I feel my magic in the door. Ah, yes. This could get addictive.

 

I pull the door open a little and peek out: left, right. I look down. I turn around and look at the others, leaving the door open. “Only mind the dead goblin outside.”

 

Gurth, Yanos and Fred all have to look, of course, and then they all sort of shrug—this is the sort of thing one sees all the time, you know—and go out in the hall. Ed follows them after a moment spent fighting with his second boot.

 

“Need to pee?” Zelin asks.

 

“Me? I’m fine.”

 

“Got any more of those cookies?”

 

“Of course I do.”

 

A few minutes later, we’re back out in the hall and headed onward. Gurth and Yanos lead the way, me and Zelin behind with the light, then Fen and Jan with the map, then Fred and Ed. Yanos has already filled in the necessary details for Janet, but she still needs to correct it in places. We follow the hall we’re on to the right, passing several doors on either side, no doubt luxury suites from the old days. Presently another way opens out of the left wall. This new hallway runs about thirty feet and then turns right at a right angle; in another twenty feet or so it turns left. It continues zig-zagging about, with occasional doors, until it opens into a large, dark room. Yanos stops in front of a door maybe fifteen feet before the opening.

 

“What’s in there?” I ask, pointing toward the larger room.

 

“Maybe something we don’t want to wake,” he says.

 

“Wokay. Fen? Door opener?”

 

“Ready,” he says. “Sure this is the one?”

 

“I’m sure,” Yanos hisses.

 

Fenric shushes him, then puts his ear to the door. He goes through his whole stealth routine, slipping through and then flinging the door open from within. It’s a square room, twenty-plus feet on a side. As with most of the rooms in this place, it’s got a matching floor, walls and ceiling of stone patched with plaster and stone. The exception is a round inlay of rough wood in the middle of the floor, with a leather strap nailed onto the middle of it. Nothing else is in the room, not even a corpse. We all get inside and Ed pulls the door shut behind us.

 

Fenric advances and takes the strap. “Shall I?” he asks.

 

“Of course, you dope,” I say, before Yanos can.

 

He pulls the strap and the round hatch comes up with it. We all gather around the hole. There’s a dark room below us, and a ladder is visible in my wand light on the floor below.

 

“Great,” says Gurth. “I bet I’m going to have to jump down and get that.”

 

I say, before Yanos can, “I bet you’re right.”

 

 

 

5.

 

The fourth level down in Valen is not that bad to begin with. Gurth hops down, bends his knees nicely when he lands, stands up, bends to pick up the ladder, raises it into the opening and deftly fits the top rung into a couple of hooks we can’t see. He steps back to look at his work.

 

“Gurth!” I cry out.

 

He whips around, grabbing out his sword. He doesn’t get a handle on it quite so deftly, and it flies out of his hand. The overgrown gnoll that’s crept up on him leaps, to tangle him in its long grasping arms and bear him down so it can take a bite of his throat. The sound of an arrow marks the failure of this plan, however, and Gurth finds himself, not in the afterlife, but wrestling with a large, dead gnoll. He jumps up with a cry of disgust. The body flops down on its front, an arrow with green feathers sticking out the back of its cranium.

 

Zelin is the first one down the ladder. She picks up Gurth’s sword and hands it to him, then puts her boot on the gnoll’s back and pulls the arrow out of its brain. The life of an elf archer.

 

“Thanks,” says Gurth.

 

“You would do the same,” says Zelin. “Ea falazu lath.

 

“You’re right,” says Gurth, looking at his sword. “”I would.”

 

I come skipping down the ladder, walk up to Gurth and give him a hug. “Sorry,” I say. “I should have been—!”

 

“No, I should have been,” he says.

 

The rest troop down the ladder. The room is not very big and has one door; its only furnishings are one gnoll cadaver. Fenric checks the door; Yanos commences to second guess our method of entry, but everyone ignores him; Ed and Fred poke the cadaver. Ed comes up with something: “Hey folks! A pouch!”

 

“Give it to me,” say both Zelin and Yanos. Ed, to his credit, gives the pouch to Zelin. “Put out your hands,” she says to me, and I do, palms up and together. She dumps onto them a pile of coins, which I lower to the floor and count.

 

“Oooh,” I say. “We are rich.

 

“How rich?” asks Fred.

 

“Well. Nine gold. We each get a gold! Fourteen silver, um, twenty-five pennies. That’s a gold, a silver and three copper for each of us, and a gold, six and one into the party fund.” I start divvying. “We’re rich!”

 

“The extra should go to Zelin,” says Yanos.

 

“Nonsense,” says the elf. “Or, thank you, but I will spend the extra on beer at Sleepy’s. How much do you get for a gold?”

 

“That should be a keg or so,” says Gurth as I start handing out the divvy.

 

“I can’t believe it,” I say. “My first actual treasure grab.”

 

“That’s fine,” says Yanos, “but there’s so much more near here, and so much better guarded. Shall we get on with it?”

 

“Everyone’s okay, right?” says Janet. We all look at each other and nod.

 

“Door’s safe,” says Fenric: he has the door open enough to peer out into the hall. “Let’s go.”

 

So we do. The hall, which looks like many of the halls above us, runs to the left and right. “Left is the way we went, me and Barb,” says Yanos. “Chapel’s to the right.”

 

We form up again, Gurth and Yanos in front, and head for chapel. No doubt many of us are praying in some fashion or other already.

 

We see nothing moving, but we hear and smell lots of things. I’m getting way too used to them.

 

Twenty paces down the hall, the procession stops. We’ve come to a wide hall that crosses our way at a slant, passing from a dark silence to the right, toward a dark noise on the left. “Something is fighting something,” says Janet, “and something else is celebrating something, that’s what it sounds like to me.”

 

“Yes, me too,” says Fenric.

 

“Okay, great,” says Yanos, “let’s take the opportunity—!”

 

“Okay, okay,” says Fenric. We scurry across the wide hall and onward along our own hall.

 

In another thirty paces, the hall takes a hard left. Just up from there, there’s a wide hall opening on the right. When we get to it, it turns out to be the back of a fairly large chamber. We stand there examining it in the stillness.

 

It’s shadowed, but it’s not pitch black, and after the rest of Valen, it seems very well-lit. There are three torches in brackets on the back wall facing us, over a large table or altar. The back wall is indented maybe ten feet; the walls on either side have doors in them going back. The chamber itself is maybe sixty feet wide, and that altar is a good sixty feet away from where we’re standing. There are a couple more doors along each side wall. The doors in the back wall are of wood, but they shine with a fine polish in the torch light. They’re set in ornate doorways, which fit into the overall theme of the wall, which is covered in bas-reliefs. The theme is snakes and bubbles and curiously distorted cubes. I’m not a fan.

 

“The chapel,” says Yanos.

 

“Well, clearly,” I can’t help saying.

 

We advance into the place. The sounds from behind us, loud enough from the wide slanted hall, are muffled now, and our own footfalls dominate the soundscape, try as we might to keep them quiet. Inevitably we fan out: Yanos and Zelin to the left, Fenric toward the back door on the right, Janet toward the altar, where she looks on the bas-reliefs and the now-visible frescoes (snakes, bubbles and the occasional peculiar fish) with loathing. Gurth and I linger in the middle, just looking around and taking it in; Ed and Fred linger near the entrance.

 

“We should check these back doors,” Fenric stage-whispers. “One at a time.”

 

“We should check the side doors,” I stage-whisper back. “They make me nervous.”

 

They do make me nervous, and for good reason.

 

I’m looking straight at the middle of three shabby-looking wooden doors along the left side of the chapel. To my dismay, it opens, as do the other side doors on left and right. With a sudden cry of joy, goblins burst from all six side doors.

 

It’s over very fast, and I feel like I hardly see any of it. I hear our bows fire several times—Yanos’s crossbow and Zelin’s longbow are easy to distinguish from the little bows of the goblins. I hear shouts and involuntary cries of our own. Then the sound prevails of swords and spears clashing, of swords hitting helmets and points thudding into leather and mail.

 

I’m standing there with my wand up. An arrow misses me so close it catches in my winter coat sleeve. I realize it’s just me and Janet and Gurth in a little knot: she’s actually whacking at the goblins nearest her with her backpack, while Gurth is slicing at them, rather successfully. He advances into a knot of attackers, following through with his swings, but knowing he’s over-extended, he drops back and they come again.

 

Another arrow hits my arm. This one breaks the skin.

 

“Crap,” I say, thinking, if only I could lock them. But no. It’s time for my big weapon. Sweeping my wand down and around, which I hope is impressive, I shout “Ag!

 

It’s impressive enough. I put everything into the sleep spell this time. I’m not planning on having any energy left. And five, ten, fifteen goblins, this whole side of the room, sway as one and topple over snoring.

 

Gurth is still fighting desperately: his ten or fifteen are still wide awake. At the far end of the room, Fenric has his long knife out and is using it to cut down any goblin that gets close to him at the right-hand back door, but soon he’ll have three at once and he’ll be in big trouble.

 

Ag!” cries Janet, throwing all her energy into the only spell we have in common. The goblins on the other side of the room sway and topple into slumber.

 

We’re standing amid gore and snooze. The four of us, all a little wounded: me with a couple of arrows sticking out, Jan with a nasty cut on her left shoulder, Gurth with several cuts and a gashed thigh, and Fenric with slices in his leg and an arrow sticking out of his hood like a feather in a cap.

 

“Ed and Fred!” I cry out. We all look. There they are, side by side, full of arrows and stab wounds, lying on the floor at the back, just as dead as Jorg.

 

“Yanos?” says Janet. “Zelin?”

 

 

 

6.

 

“What the hell do we do in this situation?” I ask. “Just tell me.”

 

“We check that door,” says Janet, advancing on the left door. Along the way she pauses over a sleeping goblin, and takes a sort of mallet out of its paws. She looks at me. “What? My order doesn’t permit use of bladed weapons. And I’m done using my backpack as a club.”

 

“You want a sword, Dais?” asks Gurth. “You totally could use one.”

 

I look around. Plenty of short swords are available. I picture myself fencing with five men at once, I shake it off. Holding my wand out, I join Janet at the left door.

 

“They went through there,” says Fenric, by the right door. “First Yanos, then Zelin. The goblins made a charge at them and you know, they’re just archers, they can’t really fight off ten goblins at once. Of course Yanos went in first. Zelin got her knife out and hacked a couple more before she went.”

 

Janet listens at the crack of the door. She flinches back from it. “More goblins, or something,” she says.

 

Gurth and I look at each other. He pulls the door open. My heart leaps into my throat. Then he slams it and says, “Got enough juice left for one lock spell?”

 

Paf nis,” I say with a wand flourish. We look at the door. I look at him. He lays both hands on the door handle and pulls, but it doesn’t budge. “Okay,” I say. “We’re not going in after them.”

 

“Daisy,” Janet says, “we weren’t going after them. Not with your energy and mine both way depleted, and we have no archers and one warrior and a thief. No offense, Fen.”

 

“None taken,” says Fenric. He’s still listening at the right door. “Now that way’s covered, come over and let’s try this one.”

 

We go over there and he flings the door open. I put my wand in: the room beyond is pitch black. “Xu,” I say, trying my other new spell. That’s it: I’ve scraped the absolute bottom of my spell power for the day.

 

A guy appears in the middle of the room. “Nyk eur goth,” he says to me. The cease spell.

 

There’s a whirring noise. A dagger appears in his chest.

 

“Fen,” says Janet. “Nice toss.”

 

“Joke’s on you,” I say to the sorcerer, flicking my now lightless wand. “I was already out of juice.” He drops what he’s holding, which clinks on the ground, and falls dead.

 

“Bag,” says Gurth.

 

Jan grabs it and gets it out to the chapel. “Heavy,” she says.

 

But the noise of goblins yelling for our blood is growing, behind several of the side doors. “Gurth,” I say, “be a fine fellow and grab one of those torches. My light’s dead.”

 

“Out the way we got in?” he asks, taking the middle torch from its bracket. We start walking up the chapel.

 

There’s more goblin shouting from behind the right door. Then it flies open. Five of the creatures burst in, then pause just to take in the scene.

 

“I suggest running,” says Fenric. None of us can think of a reason not to. And it’s kind of surprising how, properly incentivized, even a tired waif of an enchantress, her magic juice depleted, can keep up a steady running speed all the way to the stairs at the top.

 

Some stuff must have happened along the way. I remember running past some orcs in that square room on the second level. We get up the stairs and it’s a chilly early evening. The four of us look around, then look at each other. Four of us?

 

“Weren’t there eight?” asks Gurth.

 

“We’re the four that came out this way,” says Fenric. “There’s at least three ways out.”

 

“Yeah,” says Janet. “There’s our way, whatever way Yanos and Zelin took, and—!”

 

“And the way Ed and Fred took,” I finish for her.

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