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3.

A month passes. I concentrate on my classes. I concentrate on my work. I concentrate on learning all the interesting places to smooch Gurth. We go on dates, we attend concerts and swig beer and dance crazy reels and jigs and squares, we sit naked on the floor of my room and read Tarot cards. He helps me with potions. He has zero magical skill, of course, but he’s very dexterous (oh yes) and very imaginative (check!) and very much willing to listen and learn (double check!).

He also has, and I had not noticed this until now, beautiful greenish-blue eyes, soft skin on his belly, nice strong arms, gentle hands, a cute laugh, and actually very pretty feet. Other assets of his which I had actually seen before do not disappoint: no, not at all. He actually says a lot of similar things about me, so I get a lot of practice blushing. I get a lot of practice being happy, whatever that means, this lovely, rainy, foggy, muddy spring.

I pick up a new spell, then another. I figure I’ll try transfiguration, so I learn sek y tfa. I like being concealed, so I get bok kul ros, the basic, stationary anti-detection spell, as well as par ouag, the two-word invisibility spell. But that sek y tfa leads to a whole new spring hobby. While Gurth and Zelin and Jan are flying kites, Lucette and I are turning into blue jays and learning to fly. Handy hint: it’s not as easy as it looks.

Lucette and I formally agree to be good, close frenemies. We pinky-shake on it. She learns a lot from me, and I probably learn something from her. Well, she’s still way more popular than I am. I wish I could walk into a room and say Hi everybody! Whatcha doing? the way she does. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know. Anyway, among other things, we send out letters together. We each send a letter to Thomasport on a nice day in April, and on a windy, chilly, rainy day in May, we’re working at the shop together when the post comes in, and there’s a lovely scroll for each of us from Thomasport.

We open them up. They’re the same except for the name.

That evening, I’m on my nth date with Gurth. We’re at Tony’s having the deep dish with mushrooms.

“I’m glad we had this discussion,” I say.

“I’m glad you got me to share my feelings,” he says, and we chortle.

“I’m glad you wisely chose to agree to everything I said,” I say. We clink beer glasses.

The door to the restaurant creaks open and a young man comes in, dressed in dirty, earthy, comfy clothes. He pulls off his formless hat and puts his hand on our third chair. It’s Gregorio.

“Can I?” he asks.

“Oh, sure,” we both say. He sits. He smiles at Gurth, then turns to me.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” he tells me. “I decided magic wasn’t the way I wanted to go. It turns out I got accepted by Old Watley, the druid up on Greenish-Brown Hill. If I make it through the summer, he says I could train up for Master Gardener. We’re going to walk across North Land and back.”

“Cool,” says Gurth.

“Yeah. It is. So anyway, Daisy, I just wanted to thank you for beating the crap out of me a couple times, you and Lucette, and setting me on the right path.”

“Not a problem,” I say.

“And hey. The path you’re on? I think that’s the right one for you too.” He gets up, puts his hat back on and says, “Okay. That’s all I wanted to say. See ya! Oh, hi,” he says to Lucette, who’s just come in.

She drops into the chair he was in. “Hey Daisy,” she says. “So? Didn’t mean to interrupt your hot date, but just got curious what you were talking about.”

“He’s coming with us,” I say. “Gurth and I are going to find a place together. Maybe all three of us? Just so you know I’m not sharing him.”

“Seriously?” She looks from him to me and back. “That’s great. I mean, we could use a little hunkiness around the place, wherever we move to. Just to improve the look of the place. I promise I won’t touch. So, what are you going to do in Thomasport, big guy?”

“Oh, I thought about studying languages at U of T,” says Gurth. “While you guys are learning spells and potions.”

“Alloys, for me,” says Lucette. “I decided I dig precious metals. There’s tons of cool stuff you can do. And I do mean tons.”

“Cool stuff,” I say. “You know what you can make with metals and magic.”

“Oh yeah. Rings. Chains. Swords. Locks. What’s that other thing?” She gets up, smiles prettily and says, “Well, I’ll let you kids go back to your date. Ta ta!”

She’s out the door, we have a chance for a smooch over the table, and in come Jan and Fenric. “Hey,” says Jan, “we saw you and—!”

“Did you get—?” asks Fenric.

I pull out my letter. “Accepted. School of Alchemy. If I can hack it, I might be a Master in five years.”

“You can totally hack it,” says Gurth.

“I hope you’ll have time to come back to Insmoor and get into mischief with us,” says Jan. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“Gurth going with you?” asks Fen.

“Of course,” he says. We smooch again.

“Very well,” says Jan in a fatherly way, “we trust you know what you’re doing. Come, Fen.”

They head out with a backward smile and wave, and more smiles and cute waves from out the window. It’s just getting dark. Something about that—something about the twilight, the time, the sky, the shadows.

And out of that twilight, one more figure condenses. The door opens and in a second, Zelin is in that third chair. She just sits there and smiles at us.

“Elf,” I say.

“Human,” she says. She smiles at Gurth and says, “Human male.”

“So what is your plan?” asks Gurth.

“Since I know what yours is,” she says, “I can tell you mine. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to head—!”

“Back to Aeraf?” I ask.

“You wish. No, the big city calls to this Elf maiden of the mountains. I believe I shall undertake the study of antiquities. Despite my youth—I’m only 514, you know—I’ve been accepted into the Department of Antiquities at the University of Thomasport.”

“Antiquities,” I say. “We can work with that.”

“I’d think you could.”

We all smile at each other. After a moment, I say, “Zelin. Something’s been bothering me.”

“What would that be?”

“About the—about the way—about the way things are.

“Here it comes,” says Zelin, and Gurth nods and smiles.

“No, really. Let’s make a list. Dragons? That much gold? A pile ten feet high and twenty feet wide, that’s getting toward a million gold pieces. A million. Thyrssa had a lot of piles like that, and she may be old but she’s just a black dragon. Think of the green dragons, the gold dragons, the browns, the platinums! Just how much money is piled up down there? How could that much money be piled up in dragon hoards in that one hole? How much gold is there? Okay, let’s talk about their tum tums, as Jan called them. 2800°? Seriously? What could make your guts do that? What could make your guts stand that? Melting iron? Okay, so how is it that Valentia and Landarcus actually dug this place—all the way down to what, the Great Abyss? Why would a wizard even want that? Demons and balrogs and undead, and oh, yeah, dragons: those are just the things wizards aren’t equipped to handle. So you’re Landarcus. You have the Kingdom of Carleu by the shorthairs. You have all the orc hordes you could ask for. So what do you have them do? Conquer Thomasport? No. You have them dig their way to the Abyss. Okay, so now let’s talk about the Abyss. It’s what, a mile down? No, not even that. Half a mile? And it extends all the way under the surface? Like, I heard you can get to it from the South Land or from Silontis. Well, how does that work? Why don’t we hear about whole land areas collapsing into Hell and stuff? And orcs? Every year, tens of thousands of them throw their lives away attacking this town and they never get anything out of it. Where do they all come from? Why do they do it?”

“I don’t know,” says Zelin, “any of that, but I think if we follow you around we might find out, right, Gurth?”

“That’s exactly what I think,” says Gurth.

“And then there’s us,” I say. “I know we lost people. But we made it. Think what we did, we found the Circlet and returned it, we made it to Vladimir’s, we made it there again, we found the Key. We stole the Key from Thyrssa the Black. And we made it out. I stole it and I made it out. How amazing is that? Little me?”

“Little me,” says Zelin. “I don’t know about any of those other things. But how amazing is it we made it out? We had you. We had us.” She smiles at Gurth, then me. “I don’t think that’s amazing at all. Do you?”

“No, I suppose not,” I say. “But the thing is, all these amazing things? Piles of gold, metal-melting tum tums, vast abysses, shiny rings and gems and magic swords, millions and millions of orcs. The weirdest thing of all is this.” I reach into my cleavage, such as it is, and pull out the key, on that nice little titanium chain Gurth got me for it. I hold it in my open palm: a large, brown, somewhat tarnished real object cool against my skin. “It’s so ordinary. It’s just a key.”

We look at it for a minute, on my right palm. “The thing is,” I say in a low voice, “you’d expect it to have a wicked magic charge. I mean, the Lapis Circlet did, I could feel it. But this doesn’t. It’s like it’s not magic at all.” I close my hand on it. “It’s not magic. At all.”

“It’s not?” says Gurth. “But—!” But he stops and smiles at me.

“That’s it,” I say. “That’s why someone—you know someone was looking for it, Reg Barnswallow or someone, maybe the Wall guys, maybe lots of people. But they couldn’t find it. They couldn’t see where it was. You had a dream about it, Elf Girl, you saw exactly where it was because someone somehow wanted you, and me and Gurth and, you know, Glee and stuff, to know where it was. But these big wizards and time warriors couldn’t find it because it has no magical charge.” I open my hand to glimpse it again, then close my fist. “It’s just a key.”

“I don’t know,” says Zelin, getting up. “The weirdest thing is the most ordinary. What does that mean?” She gets up. “I guess,” she says, “that makes it just like you, Daisy Delatour.” She smiles, turns and disappears out into the night.

“But what does it mean,” I say, my left hand taking Gurth’s right hand across the table. With my other hand I pull the Key out again and hold it between us in my palm.

“If anyone is going to find out what anything means,” says Gurth, “it’s going to be you.”

“Why, thank you,” I say. “I have to agree.” I open my right hand and gaze at the key while outside the rainy twilight deepens into night.

THE END

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