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5.

We talk a little more, and then we leave Zelin’s place in the care of her cat. So many things have happened to me that I’m sort of surprised to still be living in my boring old home town where nothing ever happens. Which gets attacked by hordes every winter. Where there’s a ruined castle with dungeons underneath that hide dragons and important magical items. In any case, the three of us come down the stairs and out onto the street next to Ferdinandina’s General Emporium. It’s fully dark and fully cold, but there are lights up along nearby Beaker Street and the other way up this little street, whatever it is, Ins Avenue is lit up, its blocks closed off. Ins is a broad way that doesn’t work well as a means of transportation but is great for street parties.

“I forgot. It’s New Year’s Eve,” I say.

“How could you forget?” asks Fenric, rubbing his hands together.

“You’re going to party hearty?”

“Heck with that,” he says. “This is my work day. Hey, I’ll tell you if I find out anything. Or if I can pick a key from anyone’s pocket. See you, Elf Girl.”

“Good luck,” says Zelin as Fenric slinks off gleefully into the shadows. “Now you,” she says, “should go have a good time. I think I’ll go do a round of the walls. Look at the stars, see if they tell me anything.”

“What’s it like being an Elf Girl?” I ask.

She laughs. “I’m not the one to ask,” she says. “I’m told I’m atypical.”

 

We part, and I wander home through the developing festivities. I kind of expect Jan to be there, but instead, it’s Lucette, standing at the counter eating mushroom stew. The shop is locked up. She’s reading in Mom’s herbarium.

“Plants are freakin’ interesting,” she says. “So, want to party a little?”

Well, let’s see. It’s New Year’s Eve. Partying is what you do. And with Lucette? Well, more surprising things could happen to me. More surprising things have happened to me. I went into the Valen catacombs, ostensibly to find the Lapis Circlet, which I didn’t really care about. I saw a number of people die; I personally burned some goblins to a crisp. Lovely aroma. I have peed in the dungeon. I never thought I’d do that. The Circlet didn’t matter to me, but it mattered to some people, which landed me in a real live spell battle. With some guys who had been crows. And Lucette. But it turned out that the weird thing was this key, which I had a dream about. Now the Goddesses are mucking about in my subconscious, leaving me little hints there. Never thought that would happen. But it did.

What else? I was a virgin until last month. Yesterday evening I did the dirty with a girl. Well, we did several things, all of which could be considered very dirty, but the girl in question is some fraction of a millennium old, and the very dirties seemed sort of innocent. Oh, I’d been told this as well, somewhere along the line: if you kissed someone, you might fall in love with them and they’d be your love forever. And this was supposed to be the best thing. Well, I’d done a lot more than kiss Yanos, and I was never in love with him, but I don’t want to talk about that even now. I don’t mind talking about Zelin, and I like her a lot, and I know what she means about trusting someone after you do the dirties with them, at least a certain sort of dirties, but what I am with her is not in love. Is it? No. Just checked. I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

So now Lucette, who for a long time wouldn’t give me the time of day, wants to party with me. Heck, she flat told me she wasn’t interested in the Key, but now she is. So, that’s kind of surprising. And it makes me think, and that makes me ask questions.

We are standing with glasses of white wine on the margin of the Count’s Plaza watching a sort of folky swing band. We’ve turned down several dance requests. Before another gorgeous young man can come ask Lucette (one actually asked me, I’ll have you know), I say, “Luce, how did you hear about this Key in the first place?”

“Hmm,” she says. She backs up, and I, wondering, back up with her, into the lee of a building. “Lil gok,” she says: the scenery-people spell, a cheap way of hiding in plain sight. Still, she looks around.

“Let me guess,” I say. “You had a dream.”

“No. No, I had a, um, talkative lover. Lover,” she repeats. “I just love that word. Lover.”

“Who?”

“Well,” she says, “Yanos, if you really want to know.”

“Yanos??”

“You slept with him, didn’t you?” I neither confirm nor deny, which apparently confirms. “So, so did I,” she says. “He’s, like, pumping me for info, about you guys and what you’re all up to. He’s all, don’t let them know I’m around, they think I’ve left town and so on. It was back before Yule, it wasn’t that long after that little par-tay we had on the West Tower.”

“And he just opens up about this Key thing?”

“Oh no. He tries to be clever about it. Finally, after we did the thing, and before we did the thing a second time, which we totally did but it frankly wasn’t that great—did you think?”

“Oh, Lucette, I have so much less to compare it to than you.”

“Meow. So finally he actually asks if I’ve heard about a key. So of course I don’t even have to act innocent, because I haven’t. He’s really concerned that you guys, Zelin and your other little friends, will find this thing, which he doesn’t understand anyway because he’s got about as much magical power as that rock over there. But he’s trying to make a deal, you know, as always, and he probably has someone talking to him. I mean, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I do,” I say. “Did I mention that I see Yanos right this moment?”

“Where? Oh phew. Thank Goddess I picked scenery-people for my new spell. Hey. He’s talking to—isn’t that—?”

“It’s Gregorio,” I say.

She takes a good look. I wonder what we look like from outside, but standing here by a wall near a bush, I’m not sure they’d notice us fifty yards away without the spell. But there’s no doubt. That’s Gregorio, the Would-Be Lothario, and that’s Yanos.

So we split up for the night. Shop will be closed tomorrow, but I’ll see her the next day. We air kiss just like we’re actually friends. I head the opposite direction from anyone I’ve slept with or air kissed lately.

And what can I say? I’m eighteen. It’s quite the party. I run into that guy Padric, the guy whose foot Jan saved just before we went into Valen the first time, back when Hurcus and Harmon were still breathing. We talk, he buys me a few beers, I buy him a few, and I don’t bother messing up my own bed this night.

 

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