Book 2: Chapter Thirteen

Gigantic trees with hard white trunks rose around them, creating a feeling of walls beyond walls. This place was called the Jade Forest, not because of the greenness of the foliage, which was indeed very green, but because of the effect it had on the light. Yellow sunlight streamed in through the canopy and was instantly transformed into emerald beams that shifted and danced in complex patterns as the branches above swayed in the wind.

It was a bright and uplifting experience to walk through the forest’s domain. No gloomy shadows where beasts might lurk or rotting plants fermented. The whiteness of the bark was bathed in cheerful, sparkling green light.

“This is a very weird place,” said Simole. “I feel like I should be skipping.” She placed her bare feet on the protruding white roots of a large tree and plucked a white flower from the ivy that ran up the trunk.

“How far would you say the village is?” said Dizzy. She was keeping pace with Nic and had to keep stopping to let him catch up.

“Hammersham?” said Nic, even though there was no other village she might be referring to. “I’m not sure. 2 km?”

“I make it 2.6,” said Dizzy. “And how long do you think it will take us to get there at our current speed? The limiting factor being the person who is the slowest, obviously.”

Nic walked past her without needing to check where she was looking when she said that. “The terrain doesn’t allow for swift movement.”

The ground was hilly, full of slopes bestrewn with exposed tree roots. Running would guarantee tripping.

“Your movement, perhaps, but that isn’t something we can do anything about,” said Dizzy. “Not right now, in any case. You have to make the best of the hand you’re dealt. How long?”

“I’d guess, maybe an hour?”

“An hour. A little optimistic. I’d say, two hours and twenty minutes.”

“Okay,” said Nic, not seeing why it would matter. It wasn’t like they were in a race. The people they were doing their utmost to avoid would either have the means to catch them or not. First, they would have to figure out where their targets were headed, which was the real limiting factor. If they knew that, they would probably be waiting for them in Hammersham, and getting there quicker would only mean being apprehended sooner. “We should still be able to get to Ransom by lunchtime, assuming we can hitch a ride.”

“I’m still not sure why we’re avoiding them,” said Simole, from up ahead. She had been behind, looking at flowers a moment ago. Now she was standing in a cascade of rotating viridian beams, wearing a crown of white blossoms. “They probably just want to ask a few questions. What’s going on? What are you up to? What makes a boy like you so special? The same things we all wonder.” She jumped into the air and vanished. And then reappeared in the same spot with a handful of purple leaves — not magic, just the play of light in the woods. She opened her hand and the leaves flew away. Not leaves.

“I can’t quite explain it,” said Nic, “but it’s more than that. They want to investigate more thoroughly than pose a few questions. They want to do it out of sight of the other departments, which can’t be a good thing. Do you know who’s in charge of your father’s old department?”

“No,” said Dizzy. “He was training a number of people for the role. One of them probably. Two hours and twenty minutes,” said Dizzy. “I think that’s ample time for you to go over everything that’s happened to you since you arrived at Ransom. Not everything, just the salient points.”

“Salient?” said Nic.

“Salient to me,” said Dizzy. “You know me so well, just narrow it down to what you think I would like to know but you’d rather I didn’t.”

Nic could see her point. She had been left in the dark for most of what had happened and now, here she was with time to kill and the boy with all the answers. If only.

“It would slow us down if I had to stop and summarise everything.”

“You can’t walk and talk at the same time?” asked Dizzy. She was surprisingly calm, which was worrying.

“I can, but I’m trying to focus my breathing and regulate my pace, like you taught me. I’m still getting used to it.”

“Perhaps I should carry you on my back,” said Dizzy. “Or in my arms.”

Nic stopped. It wasn’t really fair to not tell her what the situation was. She was involved, she had a right to know. Once he told her, she would be in a better place to make a decision as to what she would be willing to do, and not to do.

He realised he didn’t want to do that. He wanted her to need answers.

“It was your idea to come,” said Nic. “I didn’t ask you. You can always—”

“No,” said Dizzy. “Don’t even. My father died because of whatever this is. You were there when he died. You think me being here is a choice? You think playing the mysterious hero is going to work on me? Considering how well you know me, it wouldn’t surprise me if the only reason you allowed yourself to get involved with any of this was because you knew it would appeal to my sense of outrage and injustice. Throw yourself into the raging inferno and watch eager little Dizzy rush to join you. Was that why you dragged my father into the inferno with you?”

She hadn’t spoken very loudly, but the intensity of her words hit him like hailstones.

“No. I didn’t plan any of that.”

“Plan, no. But take advantage of an opportunity — isn’t that your speciality?”

Had he done that? Certainly, he knew her well enough to know how attractive his predicament would be to someone with her proclivities. Maybe not consciously, but as a way to leave a little bait on the line while he dealt with other matters? It wasn’t entirely unfeasible.

“Think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” said Simole, standing beside Dizzy. How had she moved so far and so quickly without being noticed? Another trick of the light? “To think he would manipulate the end of the world just to get you to notice him. What kind of a madman would risk so much for a little attention? From you, of all people.”

“I think you’re missing the point,” said Dizzy, not rising to Simole’s own baiting. “It isn’t that he would do something so reckless, it’s that whatever he did, it worked. Here I am, after I made the firm and final decision to stick to my own path. I don’t like to be manipulated. I like it even less when I had no idea it was happening. Frankly, I’m embarrassed it’s taken me this long to realise. But now that I am aware of my failure, I don’t intend to compound it by pretending I’m still in control of my own destiny.”

“I didn’t—”

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Nic. Whether or not I was manoeuvred into this position isn’t up for debate. Who is behind it is what I’m asking. If it isn’t you, then who? And if you don’t know, then I think it’s only right you reveal what you do know so that others with a sharper, more objective outlook can make sense of what you can’t.”

Nic found her argument compelling. If he had a full understanding of the situation, then he would be well within his rights to pick and choose what he revealed to her. It would be for a considered choice on his part. But since he didn’t have a full understanding, he wasn’t doing her any favours. His silence was as likely to hurt as protect.

“I have Winnum Roke inside me,” said Nic.

“Yes,” said Dizzy. “We know that. A repository of all her knowledge which would have helped you cheat your way to top place in the next school exams if the Archmage hadn’t removed it.”

“Not really. A lot of her knowledge is a thousand years out of date.” He waited for Winnum Roke to comment, but she remained silent. He felt a twinge in his temple but that could have been for unrelated reasons. “And I said have, not had.”

“She’s still there?” asked Simole.


“But my father—”

“Was wrong,” said Nic. “Or he wanted me to think so. I don’t know what he really wants. I think he’s more likely to align himself with the High-Father than…” He wasn’t sure how to put it.

“Than humanity?” said Simole, finding the words for him.

“Maybe. I’m not sure. Really, it’s very hard for me to keep track.”

“So, she can still take control of you,” said Dizzy.

“No. I told you, she can’t do that.”

“According to her,” said Dizzy. “You don’t know what she’s really—” She stopped mid-sentence and scowled.

“What?” said Nic.

“Your eyes. Why are they red?”

“Oh, yes,” said Simole, leaning to get a better look. “Are you going to shoot fire out of them?”

Nic tuned away, blinking and wiping his eyes. “Stop it,” he mumbled. “It’s just cosmetic. She does it to annoy me.”

“She passes the test,” said Simole. “Tell her she can be part of the gang.”

“This only proves what I’ve been saying,” said Dizzy. “You don’t know what she can do. What else, Nic? What else are you keeping from me?”

“Nothing. If you’re being manipulated into this situation, so am I. It would be flattering to think I was capable of such immense duplicity, but I have a long way to go before I graduate to that level of control over a situation. Over any situation.”

Dizzy nodded, and then threw a punch.

Nic dodged, leaning back and almost losing his balance. He stumbled but remained upright.

“What are you—” He couldn’t finish before a low leg sweep came in as Dizzy crouched and spun all in one motion. He had to leap out of the way.

“You’re right,” said Dizzy, rising and switching to a high kick. “We are both being targeted. We are both the limiting factor, here. Simole is the only capable one, and we are holding her back.” Her leg came down sharply, missing Nic’s ear by a fraction. “We need to be better, train harder, act quicker.”

“This isn’t training,” shouted Nic as he stumbled backwards. “You’re trying to kill me.”

“You won’t improve without serious incentive, Nic. I need to stimulate your adrenal response. Can you feel the stimulation, Nic?”

Dizzy twisted left, then right, using the momentum to corkscrew her body into a driving right-hand punch aimed at Nic’s sternum.

Nic raised his hands to block but she was already shifting her weight to go in low with her left fist, probably aiming to crack a rib or two. He had anticipated the feint and ducked to his left.

“Use the opening!” shouted Simole.

His unexpected move had put him on her right with her arm pulled back, leaving him with a clear shot at her midriff. He instinctively lashed out and felt his fist connect with her chest. It was soft and his hand sank in. His eyes widened as he realised where he had hit her.

Dizzy let out a strangled, “Oof,” and fell back.

Simole began to scream, with laughter. “I can’t believe it… You finally got to touch her in an intimate place, and you punched her in the tit.” She fell on the floor and howled. “Enemies!” she managed to call out in between gasping for air. “If you’re out there, attack now. I’m helpless. Helpless!” She went back to rolling around on the floor.

“Sorry,” said Nic, horrified at what he’d done, and where he’d done it.

Dizzy looked up at him, one hand holding her breast, her hair fallen across her face and her eyes ringed with shade that was entirely naturally produced.

“It’s fine,” she hissed. “It’ll just be a small bruise.”

He reached out his hand to help her up but she slapped it away.

“Sorry,” he said again. He felt like he should keep saying it, but that would only annoy her more.

“You won’t know your real enemies as well as you know me. You won’t be able to predict their moves and get in a lucky hit.”

“Lucky hit,” said Simole, wiping the tears from her eyes. “So lucky. You two are priceless.”

Nic looked at Simole weeping with laughter. She was taking all this in her stride, maybe even enjoying being part of momentous events that left him feeling out of his depth and utterly inadequate. He noticed how her hair was much darker than Dizzy’s, but the strip at the back was streaked with blue and red. People would know who she was, recognise her in a crowd.

“Why are you staring at her?” said Dizzy.

“I wasn’t,” said Nic.

“You were. You were staring at her hair. Do you like her hair?”

“Yes. I mean, it’s interesting.”

“I see,” said Dizzy. She began walking, roughly rubbing her right breast.

Simole got up breathless and headed after Dizzy, flicking her hair as she walked past Nic.

They carried on towards the village of Hammersham, with Nic and Dizzy unable to look at each other, and Simole sniggering to herself.

They exited the forest and the light sank to a drab grey by comparison to the Jade Forest. Farmland appeared before them, stretching in all directions. Not flat and well organised, these were crops sewn on hills and slopes, mottled hues of green and mud. Ranvar was not famed for its agriculture. The land was not very fertile and most of the produce consumed by the population was imported from their neighbours.

Nic took it all in at once, everything in sharp focus. He saw people, he saw plants, he saw the village not very far, a collection of a dozen or so buildings, their pointed roofs nestled together, he saw it with total clarity.

“Are they here?” said Nic. “I don’t see them.”

Simole closed her eyes for a moment. “I don’t think so, but I’m not that skilled at surveillance. I specialise more in seek and destroy.”

“You should straighten your jacket,” Simole said to Dizzy. “You don’t want people staring.”

“Staring at what?” said Dizzy.

Simole pointed at Dizzy’s chest. “The swelling. It makes one bigger than the other.”

Nic followed Simole’s finger, and his pinpoint vision revealed the contours of Dizzy’s body in explicit detail. Simole was right, there was a slight unevenness now.

Dizzy looked down at herself and then back at Simole. “Shut up. And where are you looking?”

“Huh?” said Nic. “I wasn’t… I mean nowhere. She pointed it out.” He turned to point at Simole.

“Don’t blame me for your lecherous male libido,” said Simole. “Hey, why don’t you even them out? Punch her in the other one.”

Simole’s unwelcome laughter accompanied them as they walked down the flat and dusty road, with tracks running in grooves to indicate the frequent carts that travelled this route.

The square in the middle of the village had a small fountain, a plain block gurgling water, as a centrepiece with a basin that allowed easy access for animals to drink from. There were stone benches scattered about but no sign of any people or wagons.

“I hope we aren’t too late,” said Nic. He had spent quite a lot of time researching Ransom’s surroundings before he first came to the school. He knew what the land around the school looked like and what purpose it served.

There were numerous small villages that relied on the school for their livelihood, providing food and supplies as Hammersham did. Nic had often seen deliveries arrive at the school, the wagons often carrying the name of the company they belonged to, and incorporating their home location.

Hammersham supplied mainly vegetables. The daily delivery usually reached the school by eleven in the morning. It was past nine already. It had taken a little over an hour to get here thanks to Nic’s eagerness not to fall behind and have to face Dizzy.

“Looks like we’re right on time,” said Simole as a loaded cart came trundling down another road and stopped outside the tavern. The rider, a middle-aged man with a limp, tied the horse to a hitching post and went inside.

“He might not be going to the school,” said Dizzy.

“Everything from here goes to the school,” said Nic. “Ransom is an integral part of this region’s economy. The larger towns and cities get all their food from abroad.”

“So you’re saying they should feel grateful to us and give us a free ride anywhere we want?” said Simole.

“I hope so.” Nic looked at the cart which had wooden crates stacked on top of each other. He sniffed the air. “Carrots.”

“You can smell vegetables at a distance now?” said Dizzy. “What other powers do you have?” Her tone was mocking, which made Nic feel a little irritated. Not with her, she was well within her rights to mock him. He was more irked by these strange, pointless changes he was undergoing. Why couldn’t he have access to something useful?

“Ignore her,” said Simole. “She’s only jealous of people like us. We’re special, Nic. I can create fireballs and level castle walls with a thought, and you can sniff out carrots at fifty paces. The world fears what it doesn’t understand.” She grinned at him.

Dizzy shook her head slowly. “She’s right, I am jealous. I just wish you’d give me something to justify the way I feel. Carrots.”

“Is it really necessary to belittle me at every opportunity?” said Nic.

“We’re not belittling you,” said Simole. “We’re keeping you grounded.”

“Why?” said Nic. “I’m already on the ground.”

“For now, maybe,” said Simole.

“And who’s going to keep you grounded, Simole?” said Nic.

“You are,” she said. “I’m tethered to you, aren’t I?”

“You were,” said Nic. “Not anymore.”

“No?” said Simole, smiling. “Whatever it is you’re going through, Nic, you are still changing, I can tell. Today it’s a sensitivity to carrots but tomorrow, who knows, maybe parsnips.”

“There are countries whose whole economies are dependent on potato crops,” said Dizzy.

“Exactly,” said Simole. “You’d be a god there.” She was enjoying herself so much, he didn’t have the heart to stop her. Not that he knew how. “You don’t know when this new power of his might come in handy. What else can you smell, Nic?”

Nic took in another breath through his nose, and caught another scent. “Spirits.”

“You can smell ghosts?” said Dizzy.

“No,” said Nic. “Alcohol.”

Nic left them and headed into the tavern, which was called “The Hammer and Horse”. It was bright and clean inside, and a welcome respite from having to listen to two girls amuse themselves at his expense.

A small throng of villagers was gathered around the bar and didn’t pay attention to the new arrival. Nic tried to spot the cart driver who had just entered. He was their best chance of getting a lift to the school, otherwise it would be a long walk with two mean girls. It would be a grim journey.

“A sheep faces a hungry wolf,” said the barman. “The sheep offers the wolf her lamb to sate his hunger. Is she wise or is she evil?”

The patrons, each with a drink in hand, made their opinions known all at once until one said, “She’s probably next on the menu, the daft bint,” and they all fell about laughing. Everyone was having a good time today.

“Ah, looks like we have guests,” said the barman, a thick-set man with heavily-veined hands which he used to push his customers aside. “Come in, come in. Not seen you here before. Welcome, welcome to the historic village of Hammersham, young master. Famed for our root vegetables, the like and size you won’t have seen before, I’d be willing to wager.”

The group at the bar had turned around to look at him, which made Nic slightly uncomfortable. He smiled and nodded. “Good morning.”

They were all men, all with a slightly grubby, dusty look to them. Nic’s understanding of farming was that you woke early and worked until the sun went down. He wasn’t sure what roles these men played, but they didn’t appear to be in any great hurry to get back to the fields. Perhaps they had finished for the day.

None of the men said anything. They weren’t being hostile, as far as Nic could tell, just mildly curious and maybe a little drunk. Then their demeanour changed. Nic sensed the two girls enter from behind him, and the men stood a little straighter, their glazed eyes clearing.

“We’re from Ransom,” said Nic. “The school.”

“Oh, yes?” said the barman, who had apparently been made the designated speaker for the group. “And what might you be doing all the way out here?”

“We were travelling back from the capital,” said Nic, “and our carriage had an issue. We need to get back to the school and I saw there was a cart outside. Is it headed for the school? I know you make deliveries there.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” said the barman. “You’ll have to ask Old Mecky, here.” He jerked his thumb to the right and the patrons on that side parted to reveal the driver eating at the bar, stuffing food into his face. “He’s a bit of a miserable bastard, so he’ll probably tell you to sling your hook. Hey, Mecky, some kids looking for a lift to the school.”

Old Mecky looked up and took in the three at the door. He didn’t seem that old, although his face was decidedly miserable. “I don’t deliver kids, just carrots.” He went back to eating.

“I told you,” said the barman. “Can I get you a drink? Something to eat? Our cook is known for her fine cuisine.”

The men laughed at some private joke. The food the driver was eating looked delicious, and made Nic’s stomach growl.

“I’ll take care of this,” said Simole, stepping up to the bar.

Nic wasn’t sure if he should stop her. What was she planning to do, and how much damage would it cause? These people didn’t deserve to have their lives disrupted because of matters that had nothing to do with them. Then again, neither did Nic.

“Here.” Simole put some coins on the bar. “We’ll pay for a ride.”

She was using the other form of power in Ranvar — money.

Mecky looked at her and turned and spat on the floor. “Keep it. I transport what I want. Sling your hook.”

The barman rolled his eyes. “Ignore him. Life has been unkind, so now he does likewise to others. There’ll be another wagon along in a bit, Radlinski and his turnips, you’ll probably do better asking him.”

“When?” asked Nic.

“Couple of hours,” said the barman.

They could walk or they could wait. Neither was ideal.

As Nic pondered the options, Dizzy walked to the bar and sat on a stool. “Can we have three breakfasts and something to drink? Anything without alcohol in it.”

“You should try the beer, then,” said one of the men. His fellow patrons burst into raucous laughter.

“Hey, now,” said the barman. “That’s not fair. I have feelings, you know. There’s no call for that sort of thing.” Then he turned around and shouted through an opening in the wall. “Hey! Three more breakfasts, and make it quick you fat-arsed dolt.” He turned back to Dizzy with a smile. “Won’t be long.”

Simole slid one of her coins across the bar, which the barman scooped up.

“Travelling from the capital were you?” said the barman. “Quite the detour you must have taken to end up here.”

“We walked through the Jade Forest,” said Nic. “It was the most direct route.”

“Aye, that it is,” said the barman. “But dangerous, what with all the beasts running around in there.”

“What beasts?” asked Nic.

“Oh, many different types. It’s the carnivorous spiders you have to watch out for, mostly. Been known to jump down from the branches onto the necks of their prey and gnaw into their veins, instantly drowning in blood.”

“Suicidal spiders?” said Simole.

“No such creature exists,” said Dizzy.

“It does, actually,” said Nic. “I didn’t realise they appeared this far south, though.”

“See, he knows. Good thing you had him there to protect you.”

“Yes, very lucky,” said Dizzy. She adjusted her jacket with a wince.

Simole tapped the coins on the top of the bar and returned her attention to Old Mecky, who was still eating.

“You sure you won’t change your mind? You won’t help three lost lambs? Don’t you have children of your own?”

There was a gasp from the gathering.

Old Mecky put down his cutlery, his plate still half full, and looked at the barman. “I’m going to the john, and then, after I’ve had a nice long shit, I’ll be off. Put my meal on my tab.” He turned and stalked off. He seemed upset.

“What?” said Simole, looking around and settling on the barman.

“You’ve hit on a bit of a sore point, there. Not a subject that will help you win over Old Mecky.”

“No? Why not?”

“Well,” said the barman, “I’m not one to gossip or interfere in other people’s business, but poor Mecky here has what we around here call a trollop for a wife. Sad, sad, sad.”

“Why is she a trollop?” asked Dizzy, in an icy tone that made Nic want to ask for his breakfast to go.

“It’s all ancient history now,” said the barman, leaning across the bar, “so I’m sure he won’t mind me telling you. Back before you youngsters were born, Old Mecky was a soldier, you see. Off to fight at the King’s pleasure. Quite the fighter, our Mecky. Got himself badly injured, nearly died but they kept him alive using who knows what kind of sorcery — the army, they employ wizards, you know? — and came back after years of honourable service to find his wife round as a giant pumpkin. We’re well-known for those around here — pumpkins, I mean.”

“Another man’s child?” said Dizzy.

“Had to be, didn’t it?” said the barman. “He was off fighting on the front. Sad, sad, sad. Of course, that’s not what she claimed. Said it was his child, that she’d visited him in the field hospital when she heard he was at death’s door. One last time, she’d said. That’s how it happened. But he was in no state to do something like that. And if he had, he’d remember, wouldn’t he?”

“What happened to the child?” asked Dizzy.

“Ah, even sadder. Miscarriage, poor thing. She never had another.”

“And they’re still together?” asked Simole.

“Of course,” said the barman. “Man of his word, our Mecky. If he says through sickness and health, he means it. Won’t go back on a promise, no matter how miserable it makes him.”

“Did she stick to her story?” asked Nic.

“Always, and bitterly,” said the barman.

“She probably wasn’t lying, then,” said Nic.

“Oh, and how do you figure he got her pregnant from his deathbed a hundred kilometres away?”

“She thought he was dying, she went to visit him,” said Nic. “She must have dreaded losing him, probably because it would mean she would be left with nothing. What’s the rest of the family like? Would they have taken her in and let her have what was his?”

“No, no. Not a generous soul among them, to be honest.”

“I’d guess she was the newest member of the family at the time, and not well-liked. She needed a child to make her their responsibility. She went to him, and found a way to, uh,  arouse his passion, even if he was unaware of it. That kind of thing is possible, if you’re determined enough, I think.” The men around him made noises of agreement. “She might not have done it out of love, maybe it was purely selfish but she wasn’t unfaithful. Just desperate.”

“Well, well, well,” said the barman. “Quite the education they give you at that school.”

The room fell silent as three plates of food slid through the hatch behind the bar.

“We’ll need to go now if you’re coming,” said Old Mecky, standing by the entrance. His face was no longer miserable, it was something else. Something less certain. He turned and left.

Nic looked at the other two, and then hopped off the stool and rushed after him.

The ride to school was uneventful and quiet. The driver didn’t speak other than to occasionally offer his horse some word of encouragement.

They sat on the lowered tailgate, rattling along with the rest of the cargo.

“Don’t look so forlorn,” said Simole. “There’s so much to look forward to.”

“Is there?” said Nic. His gaze drifted to Dizzy on Simole’s other side.

“You feel guilty for dragging her into this? Don’t be. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the way you feel about her was forced on you?”

“Yes,” said Nic, surprised.

“Of course it was forced on you. Why would you choose to be miserable? Someone wanted you to like her.”

“Who?” said Nic.

“Who? Her, of course. She seduced you at five years old.  Trollops come in all shapes and sizes. She did it to see if she could, and did a far better job of it than she intended. Overachiever.”

“I can hear you,” said Dizzy. “And if you don’t shut up, I’m going to rip off both his arms and beat you to death with them.”

“Why my arms?” said Nic, feeling unjustly sentenced. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Don’t worry,” said Simole, “she’s joking. She wouldn’t really be able to beat me to death. Not with your puny arms.”

Nic’s head dropped forward. “I will grow stronger, especially at running, so I can get away from both of you.”

“You were right,” said Simole. “He just needed the right stimulus to motivate him.”

“He’ll need a lot more than that,” said Dizzy.

The road was moderately flat and straight, and the journey took about an hour. The school appeared in the distance, as did the small group of horses off to one side.

It wasn’t surprising that the ministry men would wait for them at the school gates. Rather than give chase, they merely had to let the three students come to them. But it was close enough to the school that the Secret Service would be aware of them, hopefully.

The cart stopped and the three of them jumped off. The driver looked at Nic, didn’t say anything, and then headed into the school. You didn’t question men from the ministry. Any ministry, but particularly not this one.

A man stepped forward, surprisingly young, but clearly in charge.

“Delzina, so nice to see you.”

“You know him?” asked Simole.

“Yes. He was one of my father’s protégés.”

“Yes. I am very sorry for your loss, my dear. I am Mol Carmine, acting-Minister for the Ministry of Instruction, and Delzina’s fiancé.”

“What?” said Nic.

“Oh,” said Simole. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations, Dizzy. You’ve found the stimulation you were looking for.” She clapped her hands and grinned with delight.

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