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3.

“Zelin,” I say. I sigh and smile. She smiles at me.

“Daisy,” she says. “Named after a flower.” She giggles, which is weird every time she does it. She leans forward and kisses me. On the lips. I giggle. She gives me a serious look and says, “You understand. This is for a reason.”

“Reason?”

“Yes.” She sits up. The sheet slides off her. I sit up facing her. “Daisy. You are going to tell me something I did not know. About something I have every reason to think is very important. I need to know, and you need to know, that we can trust each other.”

“Oh,” I say, disappointed and thrilled. And then, in a moment, I know just what she means. For the second time in a month, I feel like I’ve just grown up five years in a moment. “I get it.”

“So,” she says. She leans forward and kisses me again, lingering. She pulls back and smiles. “That one was just to make sure.” She laughs. I’m not sure she’s joking. It hardly matters. “So,” she says again, “tell me.”

“Okay, I—!”

“But give me a light first.”

So we do that, because for Zelin, any two actions have a smoke in between. And I’m getting all kinds of weird vibes and they’re just washing off me like a warm breeze, because Zelin is Zelin and I already know that shallow little feelings like lust and desire and jealousy and anger and, you know, warm fuzzies? They don’t really mean much with her.

Let’s see. At this point, I have made love with two people, one male and one female. I wasn’t in love with Yanos, and while I guess he was pretty good, maybe very good, I wasn’t all that impressed. Zelin is so different from anyone else that it seems pointless to draw any conclusion about what sex is like. It’s an interesting fact that my second lover ever is equipped for sexual purposes in much the way I myself am, but this is neither a problem for me nor a huge turn-on. It’s more of a minor inconvenience overcome in getting something good, like having to sit behind some lady with a weird tall hat while watching a really good play. And: I know why Yanos seduced me. Yanos wanted to manipulate me. Yanos also wanted to up his count of seduced virgins, which must mean something to him but doesn’t mean anything to me. So how does it make me feel that Zelin, apparently, seduced me as a truth check?

Well, I’m not actually sure. But: mmm. Mmmm mmmm. It was, objectively, really good. The warm fuzzies are floating all around me, making me feel wonderful.

“Can I have the pipe back?” she asks. I laugh and hand it to her. She smiles, finishes it off and empties it. “You okay?”

“I’m good,” I say.

“You wanted to tell me something.”

“Zelin,” I say. “There are thousands of famous Keys. Thousands! And unlike rings or amulets, each key is its own thing, designed to do just one job. But the Key. What could be The Key?”

“So?”

“So,” I say, reaching naked out of the bed and taking the little book out of my coat pocket hanging just below the bed loft, “I realized I was thinking about this wrong..” Me, naked and doing research. I’m such an adult. I sit on the bed and hold up the book. “I was coming at it like it’s a magic item, like some wizard had it and it got stolen by some warlord, and some dragon ended up with it until some hero slew it and took the Key, and lost it in a swamp when somebody shot him from behind a tree. But that’s not how keys work. And then I also thought, how could a Key be so important? Unless the Lock were important, but it’s just a Lock. Right?”

“Um, maybe it’s a Guardian’s Key?”

“Guardians’ Keys are like Time Warriors’ rings. You can kill the Guardian, though it’s really hard, and you might be able to take the Key, but you can’t use it, it breaks if the Guardian is killed. And Guardians just don’t lose their keys, not without getting killed shortly after. See, I thought of that.”

“I’m glad. Daisy! What did you figure out?”

“In the Histories,” I tell her. “It’s not a magic thing. It’s a history thing. Well, it’s sort of both and sort of neither. And you know, I’m an enchantress, I’m eighteen frickin’ years old, I’m from Podunkville, Carleu. I don’t actually know anything. But I know what kind of a thing this key is. I think I do, anyway.”

“And??”

“And,” I say, “I found some references in the Thomas the Archer Appendices, and some Codex parchments they have copies of at the Count’s Library. People writing about what they saw around the Wall of Time, the beginning of history. This: this is a memoir, actually, of a wizard named Alphonsa, who became a Time Warrior, and part of her mission for Time Warrior was to look into, um, certain passages around the Wall of Time.” I look at the book. “Interesting reading. She lived back when Valentia was around. She was part of the group that took her down, actually. Hmm. Interesting sex life.”

“So this key unlocks a gate through the Wall of Time?”

“No,” I say. “No, it’s not that, but it’s something at least as weird as that.”

“And you don’t know what?”

“No.” I give her a look. “Disappointed?”

She lies back down, on her side, facing me. “No,” she says. “Fascinated. Because we are going to have to figure this out. You, eighteen-year-old enchantress human, and me, five-hundred-year-old bored elf archer.”

“Jeez. You’d think this is more the province of Great Wizards and Time Warriors.”

“Who would you rather found this thing?” she said, laughing, naked and unashamed. “You and me, or some Great Wizard?”

I look at her for another minute. I’m still trying to fathom her, which seems pointless. “So,” I say in a voice that I hope doesn’t sound too vulnerable, “this was all about trusting me?”

“Well, each other,” she says, laying a hand on the bed between us, palm down. “And right now? I feel like I trust you as much as I trust anyone in North Land.”

 

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