Ch. 10 - How Not to Be a Hero

“We’re going to be coming up on Mittle soon,” the abbot declared after they had set off in the morning. The air was fresh with a wet scent granted by a touch morning dew, and the sky was a deep grey blue.

“What is Mittle?” Roger asked.

“Mittle’s a town,” Ari explained, “It’s set at a crossroads between the lands to the north and the pilgrim road that leads to the south.”

Roger nodded along, listening.

“Seriously,” she continued, “How were you planning on making this pilgrimage route if you know nothing about the area?”

Roger just shrugged and shook his head wordlessly. Ari sighed at him and turned away with a contemptuous hair flip.

“Ya know,” Hannah cut in, “We weren’t planning on going across the mountain range. That was your choice.”

Ari ignored her.

They came to a road and turned on to it. Here and there they saw people walking with goods on their backs, or driving carts stuffed full of produce. Everyone seemed to be going to town to sell the fruits of labor or leaving with their purchases.

“I have a couple friends that live in Mittle,” Ari said, “I wonder how they’re doing.”

“You have friends all the way out here?” Hil asked politely.

“My father knows lots of people, and he would have their families come stay from time to time. Wealthy people travel.”

Mittle started to grow out of the ground as they approached. A tall, wooden paling surrounded the town, and roofs rose up behind it. A river ran past the town. The road ran along it to a bridge, beyond which was a wide gate in the paling. On either side were many small fields enclosed by low stone walls, interspersed with thickets of trees. Other roads cut across the landscape, meeting with the one they were riding along, and they could see the distant shadows of people making their way hither and thither upon them.

“Once we get to town, I’m going straight to the first dwarvish inn I can find,” Hil said with passion in his eyes, “It’s been days since I’ve had any proper dwarven cooking.”

“What’s dwarven cooking like?” Hannah asked.

“You have really never had that either?” Ari said, “You guys really are… foreign. Why are your accents so perfect?”

“Uhhh…” Hannah faltered.

“Practice, lots of practice,” Roger said serenely.

“Regardless,” Hil interrupted, “Dwarven food is the best thing. You’ll have to have some with me!”

“It’s alright, I suppose,” Ari said, “It’s very sweet and spicy, with lots of mushrooms. I personally find it kind of pedestrian.”

“I’m kind of getting the feeling that you think most things are beneath you,” Roger said. He instantly regretted it. He’d never actually stood up for himself to a pretty girl before.

“Yeah, I guess most things are,” she said thoughtfully, running her fingers through her hair. Roger immediately stopped feeling bad. Ari was kind of a jerk.

By midday they had arrived at Mittle. They crossed the bridge, the horses’ hooves clicking on the worn stone span. The gate was too low to ride through mounted, so they dismounted. The guard took their names, and scolded Hannah for trying to enter with a sword belted to her side. She took it off and left it stowed on one of the horse’s saddles, and they were allowed to enter the town.

The streets bustled with activity as people flowed around each other, each trying to get to their destinations. The road near the gate had been paved with flagstones, but a short distance away it became simply dirt. The day was dry, so it wasn’t too dirty, but the air had a distinctly dusty flavor.

“Ho there,” Hil said, politely stopping a passing woman, “Could you direct us to the inn with the best dwarven cooking?”

“That would be the ‘Hoard of Precious Meals,’” she said, being equally polite, “Head down this way until you reach the ‘Angry Man’, and turn left. Then just stick to that road for a while, and it’ll take you right to it.”

“Thanks very much,” Hil said, grinning, “Come on you lot, there’s food to be had!” He dragged his horse along behind him as he started to head away. The rest followed along dutifully behind.

Roger kept an eye out for an especially angry man. He passed many men who didn’t look very happy, but he wouldn’t have classified them as angry. That one looked kind of mad, no, wait, he just needed to sneeze. Roger felt silly when ‘The Angry Man’ turned out to be just another inn. They turned left and went down the road.

“Ah, there it is,” Hil said with a grin, “Come along, sluggards!”

They reached the inn, left their mounts in the adjoining yard, and went inside. The room was furnished and decorated as much as possible to look like an ideal dwarven home. The seats and table tops were carved from granite marbled through with quartz. Human guests could be seen sitting on cushions placed on the stone, although many of the dwarven patrons had pushed those onto the floor. Dwarven waitresses and waiters, both wearing long traditional skirts with shiny brass and silver adornments, scurried about, bussing food between kitchen and table. A dwarfess sat at the front of the room playing some horrifically convoluted thing that seemed to be all pipes and strings.

Hil breathed in deeply through his nose. “Can you smell that? That’s the smell of heaven,” he declared, “And the little gal playing up there is pretty cute too.” He gave her a cheeky little wave, and–because he was two feet taller than the majority of the people there–she actually noticed and winked back at him. “I may never leave.”

Roger had no idea how guys could do that. Any time he tried something similar, the girl always looked like she was more interested in getting a restraining order.

The abbot approached the innkeeper, “How much for…” he glanced at their party, “Two rooms for one night?” The innkeeper responded, and the two of them discussed accommodations.

“So you two have never had dwarven cuisine, eh?” Hil asked, “There are so many good things to try. You’re so lucky! I wish I were in your shoes, so I could experience them all for the first time again.” He clapped Roger on the shoulder.

The abbot came back to where they were standing. “Good news everyone,” he announced, “I’ve got us rooms and food for the horses.”

“And dinner!” Hil exclaimed.

“Yes! From our packs. I couldn’t afford the dinner here, so we’ll get to eat what we’ve been eating again. It’ll be great! You’re already used to it.”

Hil’s expression changed in phases. At first he was still, then incredulous, then his cheeks puffed out a little and turned red. After that he looked a little bit like he was going to cry, but then a look of steely resolve came over him. He spun toward Ari.

She backed away from the grave look on his face. “What are you looking at me like that for?”

“You’re wealthy,” Hil said, the hunger evident on his face, “Will you pay for dinner?”

Ari straightened her back and raised her chin, “Why would I do that?” She flipped her hair to the side with her hand. “Besides, I don’t have any money. I lost it all when those thugs tied me up.”

“You said you have friends here in Mittle. Ask them for help. A friend in need is a friend in deed, right?”

“You know how desperate and tactless that would be, right?”

“Have I ever asked you for anything?” Hil asked. He didn’t say it, but they all knew that they would have been dead several times over without his help. Roger and Hannah looked at Ari, waiting for her to respond, adding pressure to Hil’s question.

Ari’s eyes darted from each of their faces to the next before she deflated. “Fine! I’ll go ruin my reputation and drown my pride for you. See if it matters!” She glared at the rest of them.

“Well this has been fun, but I think I’m going to go for a stroll, see the town,” the abbot said.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Hannah agreed hastily, “I’ll go with you.”

“Delightful!” Together Hannah and the abbot walked out of the inn.

“I’ll be waiting in the room until you get back,” Hil said, his voice intense.

“That actually sounds great. Riding’s been really tiring, and I’d like a break,” Roger agreed.

“I need to be alone.”

“Oh…” Roger turned to Ari, “Do you mind if I tag along with you?”

She looked incredulous. “Really? As if this isn’t humiliating enough,” she complained, “Fine! This is already the worst possible thing that could ever happen, might as well make it ten times worse.”

“I dunno, I feel like being captured by thugs, chased by ogres, then nearly incinerated by a dragon, and having the connection to your god destroyed would be way worse than this,” Roger said, feeling clever.

Ari glared at him with a glare that was so intensely hot and excruciatingly cold that Roger was certain he was going to burst into flames while shattering into tiny pieces at the same time. She swept out of the inn, and Roger jogged after her as she rage walked away.

She stomped through the town, and whenever Roger got close to catching up with her, she would increase her pace to always remain a couple steps ahead of him. By the time they reached their destination, Roger was panting and his hair clung to his forehead with sweat. Ari also looked a bit winded, but she held herself with a proud demeanor that refused to acknowledge it.

They had come to a house that was larger than most of the others. It had a small, well groomed yard with decorative trees and grass. A small lane separated it from the road, and Ari and Roger walked its length to arrive at the stone front porch. They ascended the couple of steps to knock on the door. The knock reverberated with a low, dense, woody sound.

A moment later the door cracked open and a young man’s face looked out. “How can I help you?” he asked with one part politeness and one part distance.

“Could you tell the mistress of the house that her friend Ari is calling?” Ari said archly, not doubting at all that she would be allowed entrance.

The butler gave her a once over, face completely flat. “Do you have a calling card I could present, or a family name, perhaps? And who is this with you?” He shifted his eyes onto Roger without moving his head.

“Hello! I’m Hroth–”

“Don’t look at him. He’s less than nobody,” Ari interrupted.

Roger heard footsteps rustling on the other side of the door. “Who is it Mund?” a feminine voice asked.

“Somebody calling herself Ari, but she didn’t give me a card or family name,” Mund replied without taking his deadpan gaze off from them.

“Ari? Really?” An unseen hand pushed Mund out the way and the door swung open. A woman, about the same age as Ari, stood there. Her hair was done up in elaborate plaits that circled and hung from the crown of her head. Her dress and surcoat were full and covered with expensive looking embroidery and adornments. She exuded wealth and decadence, clothing and hair that were neither practical nor comfortable, but were an art for only those with plenty of time to dispose of.

“Gods Ari!” she exclaimed, breathlessly, “What on earth has happened to you, dear? Your hair! You’re so tan, and that dress…” She just trailed off before saying something blatantly rude, but the implication was almost more stinging.

“Hello Toli, I’m quite the mess, aren’t I?” Ari laughed it off with an affected airiness that had not been there until exactly that moment, “I’m afraid things have been quite… let’s say ‘unstable,’ for me lately.”

“Oh, my dear, what’s happened?” Toli’s eyes glowed with curiosity, and she swept to the side, inviting Ari in. Roger followed her across the threshold. Mund raised an eyebrow, but didn’t try to stop him.

Toli led them into a small room that was filled with sturdy wooden furniture. At first Roger didn’t notice what felt different, but then he realized that this house actually had separate rooms, and more than two chairs. It’s amazing how quickly he had adapted his expectations to match the peasant houses he had visited.

Toli pulled Ari down into a chair beside her. Roger wasn’t offered a seat, so he just remained standing by the door. Nobody seemed to notice.

“Now tell me everything,” Toli gossipped hungrily, “Last I heard you were going to be married to Gen. Did something happen there?”

“Well, it’s complicated,” Ari said, laying into a story similar to the one Roger had heard earlier. The two women chatted on, with Ari buttering Toli up whenever she got the chance. Roger soon got tired of listening to them talk about people he had never heard of, and distracted himself by twiddling his thumbs. After a few minutes of that, he picked his nose and flicked the booger away. Still nobody noticed him. Plucking up some courage, he stepped out of the room entirely. Nobody said anything.

Roger walked through the house. It wasn’t large by the standards he had grown up with, but compared to the peasant houses he had visited, it was a mansion. It even had an upper floor that had multiple doors coming off from the landing.

He decided to go back out the front door and spend some time exploring the yard. He walked around looking at the decorative plants, and concluded that they were all indeed plants. Some of them were bushes, some were trees, and some were even fern like things. He didn’t know anything about any of them. Beneath a small clump of trees that had been allowed to grow tall and wild, he found a little decorative bench, and he decided to take a seat. From there he was sheltered from the sun, and he could enjoy watching the people coming and going on the road. At first he pretended to be equally interested in all the people going by, but after a while he admitted to himself that he was really just trying to pick out attractive women.

Roger was so interested in his little game, that he didn’t notice that two people had entered the little thicket until they started talking.

“You’re sure it’s the right Ari, then?” a voice asked.

“Absolutely,” Mund’s voice replied, “If I had any reservations at first, Ms. Toli’s actions have since relieved me of them.”

“Excellent, and thank you.” Roger heard the clinking of coins.

“You’re absolutely welcome,” Mund said, more cheerful than Roger had ever heard him.

“I’ll go get the others then, I suppose. Try to keep a low profile until we take her,” the stranger said, “She’ll probably resist, and it could get messy.”

“Thank you for the advice,” Mund said, “I should get back to the house before I’m missed.”

“Pleasure doing business with you Master Mund.”

“Likewise.”

With that, Roger heard some rustling and Mund popped out from behind a bush, headed for the house. There was some more rustling for a minute as the other person left. Roger held his breath, hoping that if he didn’t move, nobody would bother looking in his direction. Mund entered the home, and Roger wasn’t aware of anybody else moving nearby.

His immediate reaction was relief that nobody had seen him. He didn’t think they would have taken kindly to him overhearing their scheming. The next emotion he felt was concern for Ari, which was immediately followed by confusion. Should he really be concerned for her? She obviously didn’t like him, and even if he did try to warn her, would she even care?

No, it was the right thing to do. She had helped and taken care of him on several occasions, and now he needed to return the favor. Even if Ari was a complete jerk to him most of the time.

He walked quickly back to the house, keeping his head down, trying not to be noticed. He opened the front door just the bare minimum to squeeze through, and stepped inside. Looking about, he didn’t see Mund or anyone else in the main hall. He quickly found the two young women in the room he had left them in earlier.

“That’s when I found out from Hune that wool socks stink less than linen ones,” Toli informed Ari as Roger entered the room.

“You don’t say?” Ari responded. Neither of them noticed that he had returned. They probably hadn’t even noticed that he had left. Roger coughed to try to get Ari’s attention. She continued to ignore him. He coughed louder with the same effect. He walked over to Ari and tapped her on the shoulder.

“What?” Ari said angrily, instantly cutting off her conversation mid sentence in order to get mad at Roger. Toli stared at him with wide, surprised eyes, as though he had just appeared out of thin air to ruin their chat.

“I need to tell you something,” Roger said, “Privately, please.”

At first Ari didn’t seem very willing to acquiesce to his request, but maybe something in the way he said it or the look in his eyes convinced her.

“This will take just a moment, Toli,” Ari said, excusing herself. Roger and Ari stepped out into the hall.

“I just overheard the butler sell you out to someone. I suspect it’s those people who were chasing you in the mountains,” Roger informed her.

At first Ari tried to be outraged by this, but she had run out of anger for that day. Instead she looked kind of deflated.

“I guess today could get worse. Why not just have all the horrible things happen at once?” She sighed, put a hand on Roger’s shoulder, and looked him straight in the eyes. “Thanks for warning me. I really appreciate it,” she said, sincerely.

“Ok,” Ari said, donning her mask of cheerful politeness. She popped her head back into the room where she had been chatting. “Sorry Toli, but it looks like we’ll have to continue this another time. I’ve just been informed of some very important business that I must attend to.”

“Oh? And your manservant can’t handle it himself?” Toli asked.

“I’m afraid not. He really is quite thick,” Ari said. It almost made Roger wonder if the kind things she’d just said to him had actually happened.

“Well alright, but you should write sometime. I do love our chats, and it sounds like your life is the most interesting one to gossip about right now.”

“I’ll see if I can manage. I must be going though.”

Ari worked them to the front door as she said her protracted goodbyes. “Well, goodbye for now. I’m sure we’ll see each other soon.” Ari opened the front door.

On the other side of the threshold, stood Bire, the blond man that they had encountered in the mountains, hand raised ready to knock on the door. Behind him stood a small mob of thugs, not unlike the ones from before. Ari locked eyes on him, and he on her. He blinked at her in confusion, and she slammed the door in his face.

“Change of plans, dear,” Ari said, smiling charmingly at Toli, “We’ll be going out the back door.”

Ari spun on her heel and sprinted down the hall. Roger was once again surprised with just how quickly she could move. He trotted along after her.

A loud booming sound reverberated through the house as the door was struck hard. Ari darted through one of the open hall doors, and Roger trotted up behind her a moment later. He arrived just as there was a second booming strike on the door, this time accompanied by the sound of splintering wood. He entered the kitchen as Ari flung the door open on the far side and dashed out.

Roger arrived at the back door of the house just in time to see two thugs rise up from where they’d been hiding to stop Ari. One of them had a knife and the other put up her fists threateningly. Ari dove toward the hand holding the knife before it could move, grabbing it around the wrist with both hands. Dropping her weight and pivoting, she dragged the arm it was attached to around, so that the elbow rested on the point of her shoulder. She pulled down hard while straightening up, and the man holding the knife shrieked in pain as his elbow broke. The knife fell from his numbed grip. She then finished pulling the arm forward over her back and laid him flat on the ground.

Immediately following that, the other thug grabbed Ari’s arm and started twisting her into a hold that would keep her stuck on the ground if she didn’t want to dislocate her shoulder. Roger ran up as quickly as he could, breathing hard, and made a grab for the thug’s neck. She was forced to release Ari in order to defend herself, and soon Roger had grappled her into a hold very similar to the one she had just been using on Ari.

“Run!” Roger cried to Ari.

“Psh, you’d be dead so fast without me,” Ari said. Grabbing the fallen knife from the ground, she threatened the woman with its point, “I suggest you leave.”

Roger released the thug and she stumbled away, cussing.

“Is that enough?” Roger asked.

“Probably.”

Suddenly Bire poked his head out the back door, searching for them.

“We really should go now, though,” Ari said.

“Over here!” Bire cried, “Get over here and bring her to me. Unharmed, if you please.”

The back door had opened into an alley made by the back of the house and the town’s wooden fence. The ground wasn’t paved here, and had a slightly unpleasant smell. Ari and Roger raced through the alley, as more and more thugs came up behind them.

“We’re kind of in a tight spot here,” Ari called back to him, “We’re stuck on a path that goes around the edge of the city, and they’re coming from the inside. Unless they’re all behind us right now, I don’t know how we can get away from them all.”

A man jumped out of a side alley toward Ari, knife drawn. Roger clamped both hands down on the man’s arm that was holding the knife, pulling it off line, and Ari threw him down . They kept running.

“See, that’s what I mean. They don’t have to outrun us because they don’t have to go as far.”

Roger nodded a few times, pretty sure he knew what she was talking about.

They went around a blind corner. “Here’s a chance,” Ari said. At the next side alley they came to, she took off down it, running between two houses. At the other end, they popped out onto a quiet street.

“There,” Ari said, pointing toward a chapel located down the road, “We’ll be safe in there.” She took off running toward it.

Roger trailed after her as quickly as he could. He heard shouting behind, and cast a glance over his shoulder to see that a couple of the thugs had come down the alley. They were calling the others over to them, and more of them started to appear out from behind houses on either side of the road.

In front of the chapel there was a small paved square. A few people mingled there, walking here and there, or chatting peacefully with each other. Several different paths met here, and to Roger it looked like thugs were coming toward them from each and every one of them.

“Good grief, why are there so many of them?” Roger asked, “You’ve really pissed someone off.”

“Enough commentary. Hurry up!” Ari called over her shoulder toward the slower Roger.

Ari mounted the stairs and clambered up them, taking two or three steps at once. Roger puffed up behind her, each step a small effort. He reached the top of the stairs as Ari swept the door open and stepped inside. Their pursuers on all sides reached the bottom of the stairs.

“There’s nobody here,” Ari said, surprised.

The chapel was completely deserted. “Well that won’t help,” Roger replied.

Ari slammed the door shut, and slid the bolt into its latch. “We’ll have to find another way out.”

There were small pillar-lined cloisters on either side of the main space, and a raised altar with a screen behind it. They split up to explore and see what they could find. After a minute of poking around, Ari called to Roger, “Over here! I found a door that goes somewhere.”

The front door rattled in its hinges as it boomed from being struck hard. “Good, let’s get out of here,” Roger said.

At the end of one of the cloisters was a simple arched door. Ari opened it and revealed a stairway that led down into darkness.

“Umm, I’m not sure if that leads out,” Roger said.

“Did you find anything better?” Ari asked.

“No.”

Without another word Ari pulled him through the door and slammed it behind them. They were swallowed in complete darkness, but seconds later Ari’s hand started to glow, illuminating the stairway.

“At least I can still manage this,” she said ruefully.

The two of them descended, and the air became cooler as they went. At the bottom of the stairs there was an old cellar. It was filled with various objects of worship, old books, dusty tapestries, and booze.

“Over there,” Ari pointed out another arched opening. The two of them hurried over and passed through it. They entered a hallway that ran away from them, curving out of sight.

They walked down the hall until they came to another doorway. This one had some kind of mural painted above it, but in the dim light, Roger couldn’t make any sense of it. Echoing through the halls behind them, they heard voices and footsteps drawing nearer. Ari walked through the door.

On the other side, they entered into a catacomb or ossuary. Against one of the walls, skulls of the dead had been stacked all the way to the ceiling, set to be eternally watching the entrance. Shelves set into the walls contained the full skeletal remains of more notable figures, and some of the shelves had curtains hanging in front of them.

Ari pulled down one of the curtain rods. She took the curtains off, and threw one to Roger. “Get in there and cover yourself up,” she said, pointing toward an empty shelf.

“This is creepy as all get out,” Roger said.

“No complaining, just do it.”

She watched over Roger, giving him light, until she was satisfied that he was sufficiently hidden, and then shimmied into a shelf of her own. She extinguished her glowing hand light, plunging the room into darkness.

Roger pulled the curtain up over his head. It smelled overpoweringly musty, and he had to concentrate to prevent himself from coughing. In the stillness, he could hear the voices and footfalls of the approaching pursuers. He also thought he heard another sound, almost like the sound of wood being scraped across the floor, but whenever he tried to single the sound out by listening for it, he heard nothing.

The thugs suddenly burst through the door, their voices filling the room. They had been a lot closer than Roger had thought, and a shiver ran through his body from alarm. The voices spread out, calling to each other, and a very slight light percolated through the curtain’s weave.

Suddenly, Roger heard one of thugs let out a shriek of pure horror, and footsteps pounding quickly through the catacomb.

“We have to leave. Right now,” a voice insisted.

“But we have to–”

“I don’t give a flying fart about that. There’s a necromancer in here.”

“By all that’s holy…” another voice breathed out.

“Out of my way! I’m not going to be enslaved for eternity by some madman!”

There was a flurry of activity, and the meager light receded. Roger listened for several minutes until he was left in complete silence. He heard some shuffling, and started to tremble. What kind of unearthly horror was waiting out there?

Suddenly the curtain was ripped away. In front of him stood Ari, her hand glowing softly in the darkness.

“Get up. We’re finding a way out of here,” she said.

Roger let her help pull him out of the shelf, and came to his feet. Suddenly, right behind Ari an upright skeletal figure stepped out of the gloom, its empty eyes staring intently at them.

“Watch out!” Roger practically screamed from surprise and fear. Instinctively, his fist flew out, striking the skeleton’s skull right between the eyes.

To Roger’s amazement, the skull popped right off, sailed a few feet through the, clattered to the ground, and continued rolling. The skeleton turned around and chased after its head, arms extended.

“Please refrain from doing that,” said a female voice behind him.

Roger spun around, and saw a small, short woman–with a hood so big that it completely covered her chin–looking up at him. She was holding a small candle next to her face, and she had a mousy demeanor to her.

“Pardon?” Roger asked.

“Please refrain from popping the heads off my helpers. I need them.”

Ari stepped forward. “Is there another way out of here?” she demanded.

The mousy woman considered them, her face inscrutable. “Yeah. I can show you.”

Ari looked surprised at how easy that had been. “Oh, thanks,” she said.

“Follow me,” the small woman said, “I’m Une, by the way.”

“Named after the goddess?”

“Yeah,” Une replied.

“What are you doing down here, Une?” Roger asked.

“Looking for something. Someone put it down here,” Une said, “Maybe it was their idea of a joke.”

“How did you raise these skeletons? Somebody was saying something about necromancy…” Roger trailed off.

“You’re a priestess of Oir, right?” Une asked Ari, avoiding the question.

“Yes, how could you tell?”

“I don’t like Oir. Never have. That guy makes me feel bad,” she said, once again avoiding the question.

Une continued to lead them through the catacombs, choosing her paths seemingly at random. She would ask them questions from time to time, about themselves, things they had done, but she never seemed very interested in the response.

Suddenly Une came to a stop. “Oh, here it is. I walked right past it.”

She crouched down and scooped something out of a low shelf that had a skeleton lying in it. She held the object up next to her hand, and after a brief time there was a little flash of light and small pop. She flexed her hands a couple of times.

“Ah, that feels much better,” she said, standing up. She was smiling, the first real emotion that she’d shown. Her skin started to glow from inside very slightly.

“Um, Une? You’re glowing,” Roger said.

“Hmm, so I am.” The glowing stopped immediately. “Let’s find that way out for you two.”

A few minutes later they stood at the bottom of a stairway.

“Just climb up these,” Une said, “There’s a door at the top that will open into a small structure in the cemetery.”

“Thanks a lot, Une!” Roger said enthusiastically, clapping her on the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me,” Une said.

“Fair enough.”

“Well,” Une said, “Bye.”

With that she turned around and her candle winked out. Ari brought up her hand light again, but Une was nowhere to be seen.

“That’s super weird,” Roger said.

“It is…” Ari agreed, thoughtful.

The two climbed the stairs, and, like Une had said, they came to a doorway which opened into a small stone structure that felt similar to a cave. Ari went over to the door and slowly opened it, peeking through the widening crack to check for danger. Once it was opened wide enough to fit through she stepped out cautiously, continuing to scan.

“I think it’s safe,” she said.

Roger breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Thank heavens. I’m so ready to get back, get some dinner, and go to sleep.”

Ari nodded in agreement. Outside, the sky was reddening as evening started to come on, and the monuments in the cemetery were starting to cast longer shadows. “By the way, did you ever get the money for dinner?”

Ari looked slightly ashamed for a moment, but then grinned defiantly. “I swiped it off Toli almost immediately after we entered the house.”

“Isn’t that dishonest?” Roger asked, incredulous.

“It’s better than looking like a beggar.”

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