Tonight I need solitude. After a long soak at the bathhouse, I gave Mickey Mac some extra silver for my own room. I need quiet. There is enough noise in my head; I don’t need people to add to it.
As I passed through the common room I heard Various telling the story to a group of strangers. Somewhere she’d found or been given a paper crown. It clung to the back of her head, ready to fall the next time she threw her head back to laugh.
Yes, let’s all hail the queen, the crazy queen.
I thought to myself. Just as quickly another thought popped into my head. She’s not a bad person. So why are you so upset? Could be worse. What if it was Kaurophon?
It was a close thing. And it would have all been my fault if Kaurophon’s plan had worked. How could I have trusted him? I feel dirty when I think of him. Nauseated alternating with ashamed, is closer to the truth. We entered the skull and there was the pillar of fire. The mummy appeared and made his pronouncement: Sacrifice an ally to the pillar and you will have completed the test.
No sooner had he spoken the words when Acgar shoved a heavy envelope into my hands. “Mail this first chance you get!” And she stepped up to the pillar, stopping short of touching the flames.
“What?” I looked down at the envelope and back at Acgar. “Are you crazy?!”
Sadi ran over to stand beside her. “Acgar, don’t kill yourself. Let’s talk about this!”
Suddenly Acgar slipped and fell in a heap at Sadi’s feet. I heard Various giggle and say “I love grease. I pronounce it an excellent spell. Suitable for friend or foe!”
Myntilly rushed over, knelt and grabbed one of Acgar’s arms.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kaurophon wave his hands. Then fire rained down on us all. Zaellie, the fighter who stumbled into camp last night, drew her sword. “Who’s doing that?” she shouted. Without thinking I pointed at Kaurophon. She charged at him and knocked him down. The fire abruptly stopped.
I should have taken a moment to think.
I hurried over to Kaurophon, sprawled at the fighter’s feet. “My friend. What is going on?” He struggled to get his feet under him. Instinctively I grabbed his hand. His nails dug into my flesh. Through clenched teeth he said “An ally must be sacrificed!”
“Well yes, I realize that and we need to talk this through….”
He shook his arm to loosen my grip and began waving his arms again. Ice rained down on us. The ice pellets hitting the ground sounded like bacon frying. Again Kaurophon said “An ally must be sacrificed!”
I took a breath and turned to Zaellie. “Hit him again, please.”
I turned around. Ian and his bear were standing off to the side. Sadi and Cinder were carrying Alek’s body toward the pillar. Acgar was on her feet. Myntilly beside her. Various was reading a book.
Again I breathed deep. “God help me.” And then with all my force I bellowed out the command spell. “By Pelor’s beard you will all heed me! Stop and listen!” I surveyed the room. Various was still reading but everyone else was paying attention. “All right. Let’s talk this thing through. First, what are you guys doing with Alek?”
Before Cinder could answer, Various put away her book and took a running leap into the pillar of fire. Her screams were piercing, but through them we all heard Kaurophon wail: “Thearynn, I have failed you!”
Before anyone could react to the name of one of our rivals on the lips of our supposed ally, Kaurophon disappeared. I felt something wrench inside of me. Betrayed? He betrayed us. He betrayed me?
I had no time to ponder that, however. Various stepped out of the pillar, apparently unharmed. The mummy appeared and knelt at her feet. “All hail Elenriel Annanole! Queen and Ruler of Occipitus!”
Various took a bow. As she straightened up, she said, “Let’s get some beer!”
Sadi shrugged. “What the queen wants, the queen gets. Scrolls of plane shift coming up!”
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