✨ Chapter 15 ✨

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Students pulled at collars to unstick fabric from their necks. Professor Caustica insisted on keeping the windows open, and the humidity made the lab stifling. Dimmed lights did little to make up for the blaze of heat coming off the rickety old projector. Marian tried to focus on the images on the screen in front of the room, but her gaze shifted more than once to Minx's table. Each time she did so, she shivered.

Endrik bumped her shoulder with his. "What's up?" he whispered.

She shook her head, not wanting to mention Minx's absence, determined not to break her promise.

Professor Caustica raised her head from her book and glared in the direction of the disturbance. "If you prefer to work on a lab assignment instead of watching this video, I'm happy to make arrangements."

Marian sagged in her seat. She found some comfort in Endrik taking her hand in his. But the examples in the video were useless. None of it provided a solution to Minx's problem.

She stared at the screen. A Glisten, in firefly form, hovered above a well. The camera angle changed to show a human child, knee-deep in water, shaking and clawing at underground walls. "Help me, dear Fairy Godmother," the child cried out. Before descending into the well, the Glisten brightened, obscuring its firefly form with a soft halo of light.

The Glisten guardian cast a beam of brightness along the wall, highlighting a metal object. "Grab on to it, child. You will need to climb up."

A shaking hand reached out; fingers curled around the handhold. The child raised her eyes. The Glisten rose upward, revealing another rung that protruded from the well wall. "Again, child." The process continued, with handholds becoming footholds, until the child had climbed out of the well and to safety.

Sal slipped a piece of paper to Marian behind the lab table. Marian opened the note quietly and read:

Are you coming over for movie night tonight? I invited Endrik. We'll have the air conditioner running, I promise.

Marian nodded, grateful for something to look forward to and happy to be going somewhere nearer Minx. Just in case.

***

That evening, Marian leaned back in the Gamboc chair and sighed. The Minikins' air conditioner, a wall unit, hummed noisily from the space above her.

"You seem to be feeling better." Endrik smiled, handing her a bowl filled with slushed nectar ice; it resembled a snow cone infused with golden syrup.

"Thanks."

"No problem, but since you've taken my favorite chair, I guess I'll sit over there." He pointed with his chin. "On the couch."

"Ugh, it's too warm for the couch," she said, enjoying the lightness of the stretchy swing-chair. She took a bite of the ice and savored its sweet flavor. It wasn't until twenty minutes into the movie that she realized he'd wanted her to sit next to him.

She leaned forward to pull herself out of the chair, intent on correcting her mistake. But a sharp crackling in her ears made her fall back into the Gamboc. The buzzing intensified. It was the unmistakable call of her ward.

Marian covered her lips to keep from gasping out loud. Minx is in trouble! I have to leave, but how can I do that without breaking my promise? After a moment, she dragged herself out of the chair and carried her empty bowl to the kitchen. Homey scents of onions and celery reached her nose before she noticed Prillene at the counter chopping vegetables.

"Hello, Marian. Is it not a good movie?"

Marian set her bowl in the sink and looked into eyes startlingly similar to her own. Prillene's dark hair was pulled up out of the way.

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