Chapter Thirty-Four

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"This," Lorn groaned, his head bouncing repeatedly against the hard bulge of Talon's shoulder, "hardly suits the dignity of my position, Captain."

They were climbing a flight of stairs with jarring rapidity, and the repetitive motion felt like it would shake his teeth loose.

"Oh my sweet God did you just say something sarcastic?" Guin yelped, jerking her head sideways to stare at him as she ran. "Guys, he just sassed! Think he's gonna live!"

"Well ain't that a relief," Zolga remarked form somewhere to his left. "I'd hate to think I got m'self vomited on for nothin'."

Lorn threw Guin a baleful glance. "Don't be so sure. I may perish yet," he mumbled, wincing as the captain jostled him again. "Talon, if this continues I'm going to bite my own tongue off!"

Talon made to response, but Lorn thought he heard Guin say something like, "And what a tragedy that would be,"--though he couldn't be sure. His brain was being shaken about too much, and it was difficult to focus. He was forced to endure a few more seconds of being torturously bumped about before they stepped onto flat tiles again.

Thank the stars, he thought. He let his eyes fall closed for a moment, then snapped them hastily open again.

Darkness kept tugging insistently at the edges of his mind, threatening to pull him back down into oblivion. He stubbornly resisted, despite the splitting headache and burning pain in his leg. Unconsciousness felt much too close to drowning--an experience he hoped never to repeat.

Guin fell into step behind Talon and asked, "Seriously though, how are you?"

Her hair was matted and dripping, plastered to her palid face and neck. She looked like she hadn't slept in days. Her shimmering blue gown was torn in several places and had adhered to her body like a second skin, leaving very little to the imagination--or, rather, Lorn thought uncomfortably, it presented more to his imagination than he rightly knew what to do with.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," he replied weakly.

"Oh shut it, you're the one who got your leg carved open!" Guin snapped, slightly out of breath. "Are you gonna die or not?"

"I'll do my very best not to die," Lorn said, grimacing sheepishly.

"You'd better," Guin replied darkly.

Lorn opened his mouth to say that he thought getting his leg carved open was probably a fraction of whatever she'd likely endured over the past two days, but decided against it. She looked in no mood to argue. Instead, he forced his pain-fogged, shoulder-shaken brain to focus on their surroundings.

They appeared to be running with great haste through a maze of wide, marble-pillared hallways. There was a great deal of sunlight, which burned his eyes. He recalled vaguely that there had been screaming, but couldn't remember why, or where, or even who had done the screaming. The main thing was, they were free, at least for the moment. Everyone seemed to be accounted for, and, to Lorn's relief, he appeared to be the only one grievously injured.

We have a chance. We actually may get out of here alive.

"Where are we going?" he asked, making an effort to speak clearly and infuse some vitality into his voice--though to his ears he still sounded slurred and feeble.

"Well, right now we're trying to get the hell out of this freakshow nutthouse of a palace," Guin replied. "Then we're gonna try to get out of Alavard altogether."

"I'd like t'know what exactly them witches is doin' here," Droom puffed, struggling to keep up. Delvers weren't natural long-distance runners. "Since when d'they trouble 'emselves aboot us, other than eatin' us fer dinner?"

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