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4.

The big plan takes shape over the next week and a half.

Meanwhile I work a lot. I make most of my classes and do all of my homework. That project in Glyphs does not go undone. I’m whipping up potion blank by the gallon. I start to wonder about my motivations: why am I all of a sudden so interested in my work? It must be more interesting to me than preparing to go back into—and every time I think that far, I want to throw up.

So I’m wheedling and cajoling and lying and manipulating Mom to get time off to meet with Fen and Jan and Yanos, all to plan something that I frankly want to put off till I can get out of doing it by plea of old age.

I start actually noticing Lucette Barnswallow at school. She’s in my History of Magic class, but of course no one talks to anyone else in there: Professor Shmoke is too busy telling us how it was around Insmoor when he was young and stupid. I make myself get back to work on my dormant alchemy project, and there she is, cleaning up, probably picking her stray blond bangs out of her witch glass. She smiles at me, but not like she likes me. I smile at her the same way.

An hour and a half of frustration later—oh, who am I kidding? I love it. It’s so much better than planning another Scouting Foray. Anyway, an hour and a half later I’m putting my stuff away and cleaning up, and Professor Stintsing passes through. She slows down, backs up and says something like, “Nice job there. Cleaning up. Nice.”

“Thanks, Professor,” I say, glancing where Miss Barnswallow was working. I can see the smudges she swirled around instead of actually clearing.

“You’re Barnswallow, right?”

“Ah, ha, no, Professor, I’m Daisy Delatour.”

“Delatour. Sorry! You were in Alch I last term. You earned one of my As.”

“Yes! Yes I was.” I almost say it was my favorite class, which it was. Ironically, it sounds more like flattery to me when it’s true. I think this and several hundred other things very fast.

“And you’re not at your enchantress test yet?”

“Um,” I say.

“Daisy? Yes. Daisy, this is your second term here, right? Are you thinking of pursuing alchemy?”

“Um, ah,” I say, “no offense, but I was thinking of straight magic, at least at the enchantress, sorceress level. I might branch out later.” Like, after I’ve finally gotten the heck away from Mom’s shop.

“No offense taken. What were you thinking of for your ordeal? It’s just Grade Two. You don’t need to do much. But you need to do something.”

“What sort of thing?” I ask, grave suspicions rising.

“Usually it would be an exploration or a—well, since alchemy isn’t your cup of tea—!”

“Oh, well, actually I think of—!” Alchemy. Cauldrons loom before me. Lines and lines of them, hundreds, thousands, and I’m aging years in a second as I stagger down the line of them. Suddenly I can’t bring myself to finish the sentence.

“I can see you are,” says Professor Stintsing. “Or you could just bring us back a souvenir from the Catacombs.” I gulp. Now instead of stumbling down an endless line of steaming pots, I’m kneeling to present the Professors of the Institute the Lapis Circlet.

“Like what?” I gasp out.

“It’s just Grade Two,” she says again. “Bring us a goblin arrow.”

“A goblin arrow?”

“Or one of their knives. Best not if it’s actually stuck in you, of course, but you wouldn’t be the first to do it that way. You know, this will work in November, but don’t wait for January or February, or those things will be as common in Insmoor as half-pennies.”

“You’re actually telling me I should go muck about in the dungeons.”

“Daisy,” she says, “you don’t think I’m old enough, do you, that Valen Castle would still have been there when I was your age?”

“You’re an Insmoor girl??”

“I came to Insmoor when I was a little younger than you,” says Stintsing. “You grew up here?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you know about February.”

“Yeah, actually,” I say. Yeah. I don’t mention that my dad was killed in the February orc wars, a month before I was born. It’s not something you talk about. It’s not something you don’t think about. I find a spot on the table and scrub at it real hard. I’m suddenly tired of this conversation, this day, this whole year.

“Well, I just want to make sure you have it in mind,” Stintsing finishes. “Since I know people are going to be talking you into adventures in the Dungeon. And do you know how I know that?”

“How do you know that?” I ask, even though I know what she’s going to say.

“Because you’re a conjurer and you’re going to be an enchantress soon. Yep, that’s what I knew she was going to say. She smiles, turns and strides out, humming, the tune and her long silver curls drifting behind her.

When night falls and the wind blows right off Flagon Lake and up the river and right down the River Road, I pull myself out of the chill and into Sleepy’s. There they are, Fenric and Janet and their new buddy Yanos and that elf archer chick we met way back when, guzzling a carafe of red wine and arguing about the paper in front of them. I don’t know how Yanos maintains a three-day stubble, but I have to say he maintains it well.

I plunk myself down on the bench next to Jan and say, “Okay, what’s the status of the plan?”

 

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