“Oh, yeah, totally fine. I don’t think those kids have any secret plan at all to do anything to us. I believe what they say about their parents tricking Eagala. Problem is, she won’t make that mistake again.”

“Yeah.” Alex jiggled his foot. “I worry that she’ll attack again to get the children back. What if she comes when we’re gone?”

“We can’t sit around waiting for an attack.”

“True.”

“Besides, she probably doesn’t know what to do next. Maybe she’ll figure she should cut her losses.”

“Maybe,” Alex said. He pointed to the paper. “Any other comments?”

Samheed looked at the list again. “Any squirrelicorns?”

“Rufus and five others.”

“No Fox or Kitten on this one?”

Alex pursed his lips. “Can you think of a use for them?”

“Well, there’s always comic relief.” Samheed smiled. “Besides, Fox can swim. Probably forever—he’s made out of driftwood, isn’t he?”

Alex sat back and tapped his lips thoughtfully. “I suppose they don’t weigh much, so they wouldn’t slow the ship down.”

“And you never know about Kitten. She can get into some really small spaces that nobody else can. I say she’s pretty valuable to have.”

“I’m just afraid of losing her or having her get swept away.”

“Yeah,” Samheed agreed, “good point. But Henry’s pretty good about keeping her in his pocket.” He studied the list again. “Wait. Where’s Florence? You’re not taking her? Are you crazy?”

“Nope. I was just trying to think about who would be most useful for an underwater fight and rescue, if it comes to that. Plus, she weighs a ton, and the ship is always tipping—”

“I think she’d be useful in smashing the crud out of some glass walls.”

“Well, that’s true.”

“She’s good at pretty much everything.”

“Except maybe hiding.”

Samheed laughed. “Fair enough. And what about Meg?”

“She asked to stay back if we could spare her. She really likes spending time with the Warbler kids and thinks she can help them adjust to Artimé. Besides, she knows how to get the thornaments off.”

They lapsed into silence as Alex reconsidered his choices for the journey. He took the list back from Samheed and added Florence, Fox, and Kitten to it. “All right, I think we’ve got a team.” He stood up. “I’ll go run it past Ms. Octavia and Simber and then send out a blackboard announcement.”

At the word blackboard, Stuart’s face pushed out. “You rang?”

“No, I was just talking about Clive. I’ll be sending out an announcement later.”

Stuart frowned. “You know, if Clive ever has a problem living up to his duties—”

“Easy there, Stu,” Samheed said. “What, you’d leave me just like that?”

“Oh, heck yes,” Stuart said. “No offense, but you’re kind of difficult.”

Samheed laughed. “What? I’m totally offended! That was only when I first got here. I’m cool now.”

“Eh,” Stuart said, looking away.

Samheed shook his head and grinned at Alex. “You see what I have to deal with?”

Alex grinned back. “I’m with Stuart. You were a real pain in the neck back then. It was really great here when you and Lani were missing. So quiet, no drama . . .”

Samheed punched Alex in the arm and they left the room together, laughing and shoving each other like they had no problems to worry about, not noticing Stuart’s longing glance following Alex out the door.

Another Journey Begins

In the morning, as Captain Ahab brought the ship around from the lagoon, the warriors lined up on the shore. They were a determined bunch. Next to them were stacks of crates full of supplies. They weren’t sure how long they’d be gone.

“Charlie knows you’re in charge,” Alex said to Ms. Morning. “If he hears from Matilda that anything strange is happening in Quill, he’ll go straight to you.”

Charlie moved to stand at Ms. Morning’s side and gave three thumbs up.

“And you can use a seek spell to reach me,” Ms. Morning said. She presented Alex with a small piccolo charm. “Here,” she said. “I made this when I was about your age. Now it’s my gift to you. You can use it to let me know if you have an emergency, and if you’re not too far away I’ll send squirrelicorns out to see what’s happening. I’ve got Meghan here too, to help Mr. Appleblossom and me with the Warbler children, so I think we’ll be all right.”

Alex nodded. He handed Ms. Morning a gift as well—a tiny stone that he’d painted to look like a spider. “And you can use this to send a seek spell to me.” He also handed her the Triad spell book. “Take good care of this, and don’t forget to wear a robe while I’m gone.”

Ms. Morning smiled. She looked healthy again, and happy, too, though there was a hint of sorrow still in her eyes. She put her hand on Alex’s arm. “I feel like we have come a long way, don’t you? Like we can handle things now . . . without him. I mean, I know you did it all alone, but now it just feels . . . I don’t know. Easier somehow.”

Alex smiled. “I know what you mean. We still have a lot to figure out, but we just know more now. I don’t think he expected any of it, or he would have prepared us.”

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