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2.

I spend two hours getting completely frustrated at the magic school library. There are a number of famous keys: the Key of Destinations, the Red Key, the Blue Key, the Azure Key, the Key of Thomas II, the Leonardo Key, the Great Key of Valentia: that sounded promising. The Valentinian Key, often confused with the Great Key of Valentia but, well, how absurd, they are nothing alike! The Ginger Key, the Key of Wealth, the Perpective Key (yes, Perpective), the Famous Key of John, the Ombarine Key, the Samtine Key, the Justine Key. There are a number of keys notable for their material: the Onyx Key, the Tourmaline Key, the Bronze Key, the Manganese Key, the Key of Quartz.

But let’s see. Thomas II, Leonardo, Justine, Onyx and Bronze: these are all known to be in the Imperial Daphne Museum in Thomasport. Valentinian is at Karn in South Land, where it theoretically locks and opens the Great Doors of the Scybelphine Cathedral (my source says that these doors are never supposed to be shut and have in fact been taken off their hinges); Quartz is lost, but thought to be buried among the many ruins of Semvov, hundreds of miles from here; Bronze and Red are in Silon, where they reside among the Silontian Empress Christa VI’s crown jewels (Red is actually inlaid with rubies of not insignificant size); Tourmaline, Perpective and Manganese belong to knightly orders based in Thomasport; Ginger and Famous John belong to minor South Land lords; Ombarine is presumably in Ombar, an island kingdom across thousands of miles of ocean east of Carleu; Samtine is known to be in Samti, an island kingdom about eighty miles west of Carleu. Blue Key and Azure Key are islands, off Lafik on the south coast of South Land. I’m sure they’re lovely this time of year. The Key to Wealth and the Key of Destinations are both books: the former tells how to acquire wealth (Rule 1: don’t waste money on a book about how to acquire wealth), while the latter is a centuries-old travel book (it probably has a chapter on Azure Key). The Great Key of Valentia actually was forged for Valentia who built Castle Valentia, and who is why Valen is called Valen, but it was never delivered to her: it was stolen by some clever time warrior and then obtained by the Elves of the Longreen Valley kingdom in South Land, who still prominently display it among their public treasures.

I get so exasperated that I quit and go take my shift at the shop. Naturally, I’m thinking about it all day. Naturally, Lucette, who’s subbing for me when I get there, stays to (she thinks) subtly quiz me about our search for the Key. I’m so tired and so distracted that I have no trouble avoiding her questions.

“So, did you find anything out?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. “I found out that Gurth has a thing for Amazon warriors.”

“Oh, that’s a tough break,” she says, and I have no idea what she means by that. “Well, did you find anything out about, you know? What were you looking for down there?”

“We found Club Six,” I say.

“That’s interesting,” she says. “I bet it’s a happening place. But did you find anything else out?”

“Club Six is overrated,” I say. “The magic beer sucks. It tastes like butthole. The party atmosphere is basically like our high school parties, except with orcs, but you’re not allowed to kill them. And the music, don’t even start me on the music, but we did find one room that was quiet enough—!”

“But Daisy,” she says. She sighs.

“Lucette,” I say, and sigh back.

She spends a minute, I think, trying to decide whether to kill me right then and there. Then she comes up close, leans over the counter between us and says, “All right then. I made one sale, I took my twenty percent, which I can do in my head. I think I’ll take off. Two questions. One, do you want me to cover for you tomorrow?”

“I think I’ll be okay,” I say. “Tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve? We close early anyway.”

“All right. So two. You ready?”

“Um, yeah.”

Lucette leans even closer. “I want to go with you next time,” she says.

 

Suitably stunned, I breeze through a quiet afternoon at the shop. Mom comes in eventually, and I go make potion blank and a few love charms, because before New Year’s those bad boys are selling big time. I’m thinking, thinking, thinking: it’s a surprise if I get all my ingredients right.

I go back to the school. I stop by Shmoke’s office and spend half an hour chatting in order to get the information that he too remembers long ago hearing about a Key. He lets one thing slip about it, which he doesn’t think is important but which sends me back to the library. I spend an hour in an entirely different section this time, then head over with a list of six books to the Count’s Library, where I find a little book and sign it out, and then, under cold stars and through a wind from off the northern ice cap, I walk over to Zelin’s place. I pick up a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese on the way over.

I knock, wait, knock again, wait, knock again. Presently I hear her lock and her chain lock being pulled. The door opens. There she is, in a sort of Elven bathrobe.

“Daisy,” she says, “come on in, it’s not like I was in bed.”

“With someone?” I ask, coming into her apartment. I smell her herb, and also some sort of incense. “Because I know you Elves don’t need to sleep but walk in waking dream under the stars, et cetera.”

“No,” she says, “not with someone.”

“Because,” I say, turning and handing her the bag with the wine, bread and cheese, “I found something out.”

 

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