10. Six Down

X. Six down

1.

Ryel the elf maiden and Arkmar the dwarf and Elena the time tech sprinted across an open slope and then scurried from cover to cover until they began to hear sounds of chase. The pursuit grew as the three crashed through the undergrowth.

They came around a boulder like a tombstone for a giant, and Elena turned to throw a spell: Gro poj syk da. Instead of explosions or attacks of the hives or the heebie jeebies, the pursuing toad-slugs encountered a cocktail party full of time technicians and time warriors and an open bar featuring blood martinis made with real blood. The toad-slugs slowed to a stop, looked around (understandably confused) and attempted to mingle. They queued up for martinis.

“Convincing illusion,” said Ryel. “Complete with smells.”

“Moon toad aliens,” replied Elena, “have a surprisingly strong sense of smell.”

“And they like blood,” said Arkmar.

“Still, they’ll figure it out soon. Let’s get moving.”

So the three charged on down the slope and up the next slight slope and down the next, and they were just pausing to catch their breath and look back when the noise of spells and their effects burst out again behind them. But these were not directed at them: Mandrashka’s flying carpet had lifted itself off again and was now neck and neck with India’s Winnebago. They were a mile or so behind yet, and the grad students on the carpet and the chimps on the Winnebago were blasting away at one another with spells, but it was clear who they were chasing.

“Ko mak er!” cried Elena, waving her little black wand: a storm shot from the tip, formed up above them and at a wave took off toward the oncoming traffic.

“Mng sek go!” shouted Ryel, waving a wand at the patch of boulders on the slope they had just climbed: the toad slugs were just getting there, and now the boulders were wildly growing to block or at least very much complicate the path.

“Do you have any bigger spells?” shouted Elena.

“You’re the time tech!”

“Mng sek go! Mng sek go!” shouted Arkmar, waving his sword as if it was a wand. The boulders were springing up like weeds and tripling in size every few seconds. This took care of the toad-slugs for the moment, but a bona fide Other God was coming up behind with impressive speed for one known as a “crawling chaos,” and he would no doubt wave a single tentacled paw and dispel all the stone growth.

“Og ko sek mng mak nyk min!” shouted Elena, and the storm intensified ten-fold. The flying carpet was blown downwards out of sight; the Winnebago seemed to halt in air, unable to make headway and buffeted by wind and rain. “Storm of hold, seven word version,” said Elena proudly. Then she grabbed their hands and said seven more words which Ryel did not catch, and they were thrown from their present predicament to the Storm Queen.

2.

They arrived on deck, but just barely. The Other God in question managed to reach out and interfere in some way that a mere elf maiden could not comprehend. So there they were, Ryel (in full elf maid of the woods outfit), Arkmar (in full armor) and Elena (in black dress and high heeled boots), standing on the rail along the edge of the starboard side of the Storm Queen, being pulled back toward falling into that oddly black ocean. They waved their arms windmill-style, they made vocalizations, they grabbed optimistically at air. The other two may have concentrated solely on these activities, but Ryel had time to notice as well that Thaeron was on the deck watching them, and Alkwadir and his crew were lying scattered about, unconscious or worse.

Elena waved her wand behind her as she tried to balance, and muttered, “En ve ni ont ra.” The force pulling them back dropped off suddenly, and they all toppled forward onto the deck. Ryel got something done while toppling.

“Ah,” Thaeron was saying, “so glad you could join us, my friends. I have a few things to say to you, and then you will—!” But that was all he managed to get out, as an arrow sprouted from his chest, the other end of which stuck out his back.

“That’s as neat as neat can be,” said Arkmar, picking himself up.

“Owie,” said Ryel. “I think I stubbed my nose. It’s what I get for firing instead of bracing for impact. Uh, Elena, uh, are these guys—?”

Elena was kneeling by Ali, checking the pulse in his neck. Then she was saying a short spell under her breath and then she was slapping him. Ali twitched suddenly, then groaned. “Come on, get your ass up off that deck,” she advised him. She turned, not rising, and knelt by Ferd, who lay near. “You too,” she said. She repeated the same spell: genk ti min aev. Ferd jerked awake with an obscenity. “Up, you big dope,” said Elena. “Don’t you start in with your sailor’s foul tongue. We have to get off this surface.”

“What, what?” was Ferd’s response.

“We need to get in space,” said Elena. “Genk ti min aev!” she shouted, waving her wand at Alta, the Amazon second mate, who was jolted as if by an electric shock. “Wakey wakey!” Elena aimed her wand at another of the crew, then another.

“I’m on it, dear,” said Ali, already up and helping Ferd to his feet.

“What shall we do with this?” Ryel asked Arkmar as they looked down at Thaeron.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Arkmar. “He’ll wake up in whatever coal scuttle or back alley he normally spends his days in, and when we see him next he’ll only vaguely remember what happened. I expect he’ll know you did him no good. But he’ll also remember you fucked him, if I know my human males.”

“You know them,” said Ryel. “Well. It will do my heart good to hear the smack and suck of his body hitting whatever this sea is made of. What’s your opinion?”

“You get the arms,” said Arkmar, “I’ll get the feet.”

3.

The smack and suck of Thaeron hitting the viscous waves was indeed pleasing, though not as much as it would have been if Ryel did not know for certain that he would simply be waking up, presumably from an icky dream. She did not waste time imagining him coming to in an alley. No, Ryel hoped he was waking to find himself in bed with a wife he didn’t get along with to go to a job he disliked: something about the way he conducted himself as a thief in Dream World suggested to her that he was not a thief in his waking life.

Not like her, with her waking life in Middle Earth, even though her Middle Earth was based around a nice apartment in the sixth circle of Minas Tirith. And a summer place in Dol Amroth. Not like her. Not like Glosvar, that jerk. Not like Arkmar? Hmm.

“So,” said Arkmar, shaking Ryel out of her reverie, “shall we have a look at our catch?”

Ryel looked at him. She started checking her pants pockets, her jacket pockets. “Oh Valar,” she said, “what did I do with it?” He rolled his eyes. She grinned and pulled her bag off her shoulder. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”

“Sounds acceptable,” replied Arkmar, “as long as you’re talking about that sixth piece. And not, you know, something else.”

“Oh, I want to see,” said Elena. “Do I get to see?”

“Yes, actually,” said Ryel. “You might know something useful about how to work it.” She looked around. “Hey Ali,” she called out, “we getting up out of the water soon?”

Ali grinned as he and Ferd pulled back on the wheel. With an odd squelch, the bow lifted, and then with a soft but disgusting sequence of further noises, the boat was off the Moon. “It’s not water,” said Ali, “but I get what you mean. Why don’t you three use the Captain’s Library? El has a key.”

“That sounds good,” Ryel replied. “You do a great job, you know that?”

“It’s not all he’s great at,” said Elena. “As you know well.”

“Anyway,” Arkmar put in.

The dwarf, the elf and the time technician got themselves into the captain’s library, a lovely little room with a study table, walls lined with books, and a sofa up against a row of little windows. Ryel briefly reflected that the sofa would be excellent for making out with Ali or Elena or both, then thought the same thing with Davalon in there somewhere, and why not throw in Edgardo, her half-elf healer from the Dylath suburbs? And then the face, and incomparable body, of Glosvar entered her overheating brain. What was he hanging about in there for?

She shrugged, rather than burst out crying, and turned to pick a chair at the table. Elena was to the left of her, Arkmar to the right. Arkmar and Ryel both put their backpacks on the table. Arkmar pulled out a smaller bag, pulled its drawstrings loose, and reached in: out came the cylinder from the temple in Dylath, the L bend from under the sea, the F with the extra piece of shiny steel from Baharna, the X with the little wing nut thingy from the eye of the face on Ngranek, and the three-legged corner piece from the Gnomish isle of Quadruun. He carefully slid the five pieces in front of Ryel.

Ryel reached across into her bag and drew out a coil of the same bronze-like metal, with a bolt and gasket attachment on one end and a swiveling T piece on the other. She handed it to Arkmar, who played with the bolt and then swivelled the T. It looked even more like a doohickey than the other doohickeys: a gadget to beat all gadgets. He gave it back, and she put it among the others. She pushed the whole collection in front of Elena.

“So,” said Arkmar, “who do you give these to and where and when?”

“I’m supposed to be contacted,” said Ryel. “Whenever they think I have enough. My initial understanding was that I was to get one or two or maybe three and they’d get with me about it. But, ah, someone, someone said that they expected me to get them all.”

“So they wouldn’t get in touch till you had them all? That’s absurd.”

“Well, clearly someone didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Ryel. “Someone is clearly kind of a moron. Still. I have a feeling that someone else might contact me now. In fact, I feel pretty sure of it.”

“So do I,” said Elena, playing with the pieces.

“How do they contact you?” asked Arkmar.

“In dream, of course,” said Ryel.

“But you’re already in dream.”

“Don’t be dim. Dream within a dream.” She looked at Elena, and did a double take.

“I wonder what it’ll do,” said the time tech. She sat back and they all gazed upon her creation: they didn’t know what it was, but it was clearly something, and it included all six pieces in the collection.

“Whoa,” said Arkmar. “Any idea what it does?”

Elena smiled at the contraption. She almost laughed, then her smile dimmed, then she laughed and poked it. She looked at Arkmar. “Nope. No clue. You?”

“Me?”

“Dwarves might know this sort of thing. Right? I mean, am I wrong?”

“We know what we make,” said Arkmar, a little gruffly. He raised his big-ass eyebrows and poked the thing with his big finger. “But okay. I do have a question, aside from the other question. What’s going to happen with this thing? Seriously? What say, elf maiden? You really going to give it to the people who contact you in your nightmares?”

“I don’t have nightmares,” lied Ryel. She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I certainly plan to get paid.”

“Prearranged buyer deals are not great deals,” said Arkmar sagely. “Or maybe you open it to the high bidder? You going to sell it on the black market? Give us both a cut?”

“I don’t need a cut, actually,” said Elena. “I just want a say.”

“A say?” Arkmar repeated.

“A say in what happens,” said Ryel. She sighed. She picked it up and put it down. “Take it apart again,” she said. “That’s first.”

“Then what?” asked Arkmar as he and Elena started detaching.

“I don’t know. I thought they were going to come get it at some point. My prearranged buyers. I guess the only question is when.”

“You will meet them in dream? These Eldar or whatever?”

“Eldar?” Elena repeated. “Wait. Ryel. You know members of the Eldar? You aren’t one, are you? Are you from Middle Earth?”

“Yes,” said Ryel, “but no, no, I’m not Eldar, I’m Sindar. They look down their noses at me. And hire me to do their dirty. You comprehend Sindar? Elena, you aren’t from Middle Earth, right? Didn’t you have four moons or some shit like that?”

“No, I’m not,” said the time tech. “I’m—it’s complicated.” She spread the six pieces around and she and Arkmar took turns moving them about on the table, seeing how one looked next to another. “Look, that’s not what matters. What matters is what the buyers want to do. I don’t think six is enough to do anything really scary, but it might just depend on one’s definition of scary. I mean, I can time space throw and shit. Just with my little wand. What could this thing do that I can’t? Well, see, that’s the question.” She picked up the X, fiddled with its little wing nut valve, then put it back down. She muttered, “It might just be a Nutramatic Drinks Dispenser.”

“A what?” asked Ryel.

“Nothing,” said Elena. “Look. Want to do a ritual? Then dream? Like, in a controlled way? See if they show up? You trust me?”

Ryel met her eyes and held them for some seconds. Then she dropped her eyes and said, “I trust you.” She looked up at Arkmar. “Do you trust me, my dwarfish friend? Do you trust me to make a deal?”

“Yes,” said Arkmar without hesitation and with full serious face.

“In my mind, you get a fifty-fifty cut with me, if I even get anything. What if I decide I need to give it away?”

“I trust you.”

“What if I decide to bring it back unsold?”

“I definitely trust you then,” said Arkmar. He looked at Elena. “This ritual. It isn’t the sort of thing you’d need me for.”

“We need you,” said Elena, “to stand guard outside the door and run in if scary stuff starts happening. Can you do that?”

“Can I? It’s my favorite fucking thing in the world.”

4.

Arkmar re-bagged the six pieces and put them back in his backpack. Elena locked up the library and the three of them went up on deck. Alkwadir was at the helm, and the stars were all around them, above, below, to port and starboard. Astern, the Moon was diminishing toward the size it seemed from the Earth; ahead, Dream World’s Earth stretched out across twenty or thirty degrees, blue and green and brown and white and not quite right for being a sphere.

“Ali, my love,” said Elena, cuddling against him and smiling up for a kiss.

“What, Elena my dear?” he replied after kissing her several times.

“Ryel and I need to do a ritual. Can we have the bedroom for an hour? You can come join us when we’re done.”

“If we’re still alive,” said Ryel.

“If we’re still alive.”

“Of course, my darling,” said Ali. He looked at Arkmar.

“Oh, I’m just on lookout,” said the dwarf.

Elena dragged a chair out into the hall for Arkmar. He handed Ryel the bag with the pieces, and everyone exchanged glances. Elena smiled at Arkmar. Then she shut the door and put a seven-word seal up inside. He sat down, then got a book out of his backpack. He could hear nothing through the seal. Presently Alta happened along and the two of them sat on the floor and played a card game Alta had from somewhere, called “We Didn’t Play-test This At All.”

Inside, Elena quickly took her clothes off and left them in a heap. Ryel began to follow suit, but, ever the huntress, she had a lot more clothing to take off. She reflected that Elena, not trying just now to be sexy, looked kind of ordinary naked. Her breasts were a bit large—how odd to have paired bulbous pink appendages on one’s chest—and her hips were wider than fashionable in modern Minas Tirith and her belly was far from flat.

But then Elena straightened from pushing off her panties, loosed her red hair, picked up a white nightie off the bed and turned to smile at Ryel: not ordinary, not at all. Her face was unflawed (with only a spell of appearance for makeup), her neck and shoulders were muscular, her hair draped around her back to beyond her waist, her tits, ah, her tits, larger than an elf’s would ever be, much more than enough to suckle a baby, but firm and proud and lovely with wide pink nipples. Her belly was muscular: this time tech did her crunches every day. Her arms and legs were strong, and her hips were solid and her ass was not skinny but perfect. Her pubic hair lurked in the candles’ shadow between her thighs, untamed, a deep red that could have been brown, hiding a pussy of great power.

“Elena,” said Ryel, pushing off her own pants, “I hope you don’t mind my saying this. You have the Bod.”

“You’re not bad yourself,” said Elena, appraising, her eyes lingering on Ryel’s cute little elfin breasts. She shook herself free, smiled and handed Ryel the nightie. “Here. White suits you. Got anything you care to hide in the hidden pocket?”

“I do, actually,” said Ryel. She took the nightie, then looked up, holding it as her blue eyes met Elena’s green. “This is intense,” she said.

“Wait till the ritual starts,” said Elena, picking up a black nightie and pulling it on.

They sat on the bed. They passed the pipe, and Ryel didn’t ask what the blend was. Between them, Elena placed two things: the bag with the pieces, and a black box perhaps six inches in its longest direction, covered with little buttons and readouts.

“This could get awkward,” said Ryel, “if we were going to make love.”

“We can save that for later,” said Elena. “Just know where the bag is. Put your hand on it.”

“And that thing?”

“It’s my remote,” said Elena, putting her left hand on the black box. “I got it by return mail after I sent off my time tech results. I’m still working out what all the little buttons do.”

“And now that we each have one hand occupied?”

“Now, Ryel, we occupy the other hand,” said Elena, taking Ryel’s right hand and applying it to her left breast. Elena’s right hand moved to Ryel’s left breast, cupping it gently but firmly. Her face was coming closer: Ryel’s face was coming to meet hers. They kissed.

They kissed, they kissed. Their mouths slipped open and their tongues met. They parted by an inch, and Elena said, “You ready?”

“Mmm, very,” said Ryel. They kissed again, and Elena’s tongue met Ryel’s and gave an odd little twist, and Ryel was spinning away into the folds of a sort of slumber while still, somewhere back there through the curtains, her hand held Elena’s firm warm breast, and Elena’s hand held hers.

5.

Ryel woke, or it seemed like she woke, in a white room. She stared at the ceiling. She was wearing a nightie, a white nightie. She had something in a pocket hidden, but in her grasp was a white cloth bag. She held it in both hands as she lay on her back on something hard. Her right hand had the fleeting sense of holding something soft and nice. But through the cloth of the bag she could feel the hard bronze-like metal of the six pieces.

In her peripheral vision she could see candles on complicated candlesticks around her. There were flowers in vases, and there were bowls of silvery metal that seemed like they should contain fruit, but didn’t. The ceiling was white, crisscrossed with beams half-hidden in plaster. There were lovely candelabra planted at the centers of the squares formed by the beams. The light was not from the candles or the candelabra, but apparently from outside: windows all around shed a uniform white luminescence as of bright summer sun filtered by a layer of cloud.

Suddenly Ryel decided to sit up. She was aware of a number of things at once.

She had been lying on a table, a dining table. It occurred to her for just a tenth of a second that she might be lying where the roast pig normally lay, and the thought sprang her up to a sitting position. But she had no apple in her mouth.

The table was surrounded by half a dozen persons. She had the impression that they were all High Elves, Eldar forsooth. There might have been more persons behind, but she couldn’t quite see them.

Glosvar, oh, Glosvar, stood behind the three Elves on one side. The Elves were looking at her and at each other, across the table, three on three. Glosvar was only looking at Ryel.

She did not have her bow on her. Dang.

“Ryel,” said the lady who seemed to be in charge: Glorel, or something like that. She was tall and very, very blond, and she was some number of thousands of years old: she was Elrond’s second cousin or something like that. She was some sort of great granddaughter of Fëanor. Glosvar, who was a mere Sindar associating with the Eldar, was just managing to peer over her left shoulder.

“That’s me,” said Ryel, huskily as if she were clearing a ten-year sleep from her mouth.

“Do you have something for us?” asked a male elf on the other side. Ryel took on his gaze. He was blond as well, with a trim beard. He was gorgeous, he was completely unfamiliar, and Ryel took an instant and intense dislike to him. She looked back at Glorel or whatever.

“We are prepared to take what you have off your hands,” said Glorel. “You have six pieces? You haven’t tried to use them, have you?”

“No! What ever would I use them for? I have no clue. Yes, I have six pieces. What are they worth to you?”

“Worth?” said several of the Eldar, as if the concept were odd to them. “You want money, or what?” asked one of the other male Elves, a skinny brunet fellow with no beard. She was sure he was a descendent of someone or other.

“We can provide you with a fulsome payment,” said the blond guy with the trim beard. “As recompense for your work so far and advance on what is to come,” he added reasonably. Ryel had to ask herself why she hated him so. She was pretty sure he was the son of Curufin, whoever that was. Her brain was very busy.

“Of course,” said Glorel. “Anything, Ryel. Jewels? Jewels are small, and you can take them back into Dream World to buy whatever you need.”

“You are working alone, are you not?” asked another elf maid, a brunette who looked twenty but must have been closer to two thousand.

“Have you ever known me to work well with others?” she asked. She was feeling good: she managed to lie to them without actually making an untrue statement.

“Of course not,” said Curufin’s son. “Shall we examine the pieces now?”

Glosvar was doing something with his eyes. He wasn’t shaking his head: that would have been too obvious. But he was doing the equivalent with his eyes.

“So, if I may move this along a bit,” said Curufin’s son, reaching for the white bag.

“I’ll get it moving,” said Ryel, pulling the bag close with her right hand. “I don’t trust you.”

“But Ryel,” said several of the Elves. “Wait, Cuinir,” said Glorel (or whatever).

“What’s the harm?” replied Cuinir son of Curufin. “Let’s have a look at what she’s got.” He reached for her package with a smile.

Without a smile, Ryel used her left hand to whip her dagger out and flip it into his neck, where it went straight through his magnificently handsome thyroid and cut a nice chunk out of his carotid and his jugular.

With a sudden snap, Ryel was out of the white space, off the table forsooth, and back in Elena’s arms.

What happened next is probably none of our business. Suffice it to say that Ryel did not expect what was coming to her, but that it felt a lot better than what Cuinir son of Curufin felt. It was nothing like death, even a death from which there would be resurrection. What it was exactly like was something very firm and pointed while also very gentle and soft, something wet against something that soon was wet of its own wetness: it was exactly like someone signing her name with her tongue on a part of Ryel that usually only yearned to be treated that way. Elena. E, L, E, N, A. Elena, with the a trailing off into flairs and squiggles. And then that turned out to just be the gateway into more pleasure, the signature on the pink official form that permitted further joy beyond joy.

For an unknown time Ryel floated in that sea of bliss, that intense and stormy ocean of rising ecstasy. Time did not stop: no, forevers and forevers beyond them opened out like the glittering caverns of Aglarond. The sound of soft cries filled the space around Ryel, and when the pleasure ceased, it was replaced with a new pleasure, as those lips, that tongue, moved up over a patch of dark and curly fur to a belly rounded with muscle and up to small happy breasts and thence to her neck, her pointy ears, her closed eyes and then her lips, her lips, ah, her lips.

Ryel opened her blue eyes into Elena’s green. “What was that in honor of?” she asked.

Elena smiled at her from two inches away. “Security,” she replied. “We needed some emotional and physical noise to cover your escape back into Dream World.”

“Did it work?” asked Ryel, not moving.

Elena kissed her again, then sat up on the bed. She was still wearing her black nightie, and Ryel sat up, letting the white nightie settle over most of her torso again. Elena picked up a parcel and put it in Ryel’s lap. It was the bag of pieces. “Oh, Dwarfie,” she called over her shoulder. “You can come in now.”

The door opened, after a moment in which Ryel thought about pulling her jacket over her and decided, what the hell. Arkmar peeked around the corner, possibly blushing.

“Oh, come in, you dope,” said Ryel. “You’re not getting any surprises.”

“So what happened?” asked Arkmar, coming all the way in and shutting the door.

Elena waved her hand in the general direction of the door, and with a slight electric sucking sound, the seal resealed.

Ryel brought forth the white bag and dumped the six pieces out on the bed. “It didn’t feel right,” she said.

“How did it not feel right?” asked the dwarf.

“Well, for one thing, my old beau Glosvar was behind all the other elves, and he was sort of making this gesture with his eyes like, no, no, don’t do it. And there was this guy Cuinir. He’s a grandson of Fëanor, you know. Never trust a descendant of Fëanor.”

“The guy who made the Silmarils,” said Elena.

“Yeeees,” said Ryel, looking at her. After a moment’s thought, she looked at Arkmar again. “Suffice it to say, I didn’t trust him. Already. And then he seemed way too eager to get his hands on the pieces. Fucking Eldar. They think they’re so fucking wise, and the wise make the biggest mistakes, as everyone knows.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, not having my bow with me, I chucked a dagger at him. Hit him right in the neck.”

“That’s so Ryel,” said Arkmar. “And you came back here?”

“I pulled her back,” said Elena. “We did a ritual to send her, and we did a ritual to cover her return. They shouldn’t be able to trace you. And if they trace you to this ship, they won’t find you here, right?”

“Right,” said Ryel. “Because you’re going to drop us off somewhere.”

Elena gave her a series of little expressions. “It’s not like I want to not see you, Ryel,” she said. “It’s just safer for both you and the Storm Queen if you’re not here. I was thinking—!”

“Atyannath,” said Arkmar. “Yes, exactly,” said Ryel. “Edgardo. This should impress the heck out of him.”

“Seriously?” said Elena. “I mean, I was thinking along those lines. But, impressed?”

“No, he won’t be,” said Ryel. “It’s a big joke. He’ll be most cross with me, actually. He’ll think I’m using him, and I will be. But in the end, he kind of likes being used, you know?”

“I do know,” said Elena.

“And he likes Arkmar, he genuinely does. So that will help.”

“All right,” said Arkmar. “It’s a plan. So, next? We go to ground, and then?”

“On to the seventh piece, I guess,” said Ryel. “I mean, we could just sit on what we have, but everyone will want to steal them from us. Or we can scatter them to the nine corners of the Universe. But one did go to such trouble to assemble them to begin with. Or we can sell them—wait, I had a chance of that and I blew it. Or, we can start in on the next six.”

“And we find out what the magic osmium token does,” said Arkmar. “And we try that key in everything till we find one that works.”

“Pity we never slowed down long enough to,” said Ryel. “Honestly, I forgot to even try it on the gnomish jail cell I was in. But I thought my way was much cleverer, didn’t you?”

“It was bloody clever, Ryel,” said Arkmar. “As are all of your plans.”

Ryel smirked. “Just wait,” she said. “Just you wait and see.” She looked at Elena. “Will we have time tech consulting on this, or do you want us to leave you alone?”

“No, no,” said Elena, “don’t leave me alone. I want to be in on this. You just need to give us a rest for a few nights of Dream World and we’ll be all ready to serve your every time technological and maritime travel need.” They held each other’s eyes, and then, quite unnecessarily as far as Arkmar was concerned, they kissed, lingeringly, and kissed again, lingeringly.

Then they giggled a little and looked at Arkmar. “You still in?” asked Ryel.

“What?” the dwarf replied indignantly. “And why would I not be?”

“Good,” said the elf maiden. “Because frankly, it pains me to say this, Arkmar, but I have no idea how I would have gotten these six without you.”

THE END

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