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WISH WEEK DAY FOUR A TRIO OF TELLING CHAPTERS

Posted on July 17, 2012

I know I promised you a two chapter preview. Well, to really give you a solid chunk of what Irivng is like, I've slipped in three chapters. they exemplify the creative narrative and the dynamic character interplay. These chapters show up about 2/3s of the way through the novel. Irving is going to his Soul Searching class and meets the first faculty member that doesn't seem out to get him.

Enjoy.

Chapter 45 The Noodlemen Conspiracy

Chapter ten began with Allegro trying to sweet talk his people out of taking swords and spears to Irving and his sister.

He paused. Over the past week, he had tried to think of a motivation for the angry mob, but nothing had bubbled to the surface. He had started the chapter with Allegro, hoping he could nurse out the purpose through his playful ramblings.

As the boisterous alien chatted with his aggravated fellows, their involvement in the story fell into place. Through the give and take of his pleading and the overbearing anger of the crowd, the scene clawed its way toward purpose. Allegro's people had been squires to the whim wranglers of Whimville, assisting in rounding up wispy half-wishes. They had been front and center at the destruction of Whimville. Through the back and forth, Irving became aware that Wish Haven was not held in high regard by all. From their accusations, it was clear Allegro's people, the Nowrii, felt used by a council whose purpose was murky at best. With Whimville in ruins, they blamed the wish agents.

Allegro pointed to Irving being of use. With his second button missing, he could draw on the wishes he gathered. He could be used against the Wellwishers.

Right when it seemed Allegro had changed the outlook of the crowd, a dimensional gateway opened above the scene. Out charged a dozen wish agents. The chapter closed with them surrounding Irving and pressing back at the crowd with long, menacing lances.

What little trust Allegro had won, evaporated as quickly as the dimensional gate above Irving's head.

He liked Allegro's grandstanding and the cliffhanger that again presented itself. He wondered if the agents would resort to violence. He'd have to think about how to approach the next chapter. He wanted the agents to be purposeful and a bit blind to the big picture. He wanted Irving and Tyler to question everything and everyone around them. Right now, they didn't know who to trust besides each other. The author liked that just fine.


****

Professor Warhinder was stunning.

I had arrived at the classroom with plenty of time to find a seat. It was not in a large lecture hall like my other two classes, but in a smaller classroom. There were about a dozen folding chairs set up in a semicircle around the teacher's desk. The professor sat on her desk, scanning several note cards. We were the only people in the room.

She smiled and waved for me to pick a seat.

I tried not to look at her, but it was hard. She was breathtaking and not at all human. Her orange skin shimmered. Her large eyes framed by thick blue eyelashes were warm and inviting. She wore a headband to keep the rows of curls in check. Only a few spiraled down, framing her high cheekbones perfectly. Her lips were rich and full. One other aspect distinguished her from human: the small rows of bone horns that served as her eyebrows. They were understated and took nothing away from her beauty.

Other students filtered in, and I fought the urge to steal more glances at her. Raggleswamp strutted in, seating himself between a scarab-headed baby with small feathered wings and a knight decked out in bubble armor. He nodded at me.

A king complete with a gem-encrusted crown and a long gray beard sat next to me on my left. Even astride a folding chair, he sat regally. A goblin carrying oversized knitting needles, which he waved about as if engaging in swordplay, sat two chairs to my right. Two teenage girls arrived. I thought they might have been the same girls my sister had been having lunch with, but I was uncertain. They sat to my right, on the two seats closest to the teacher's desk. A very tiny winged creature, his body clearly made of stone, flew in. He buzzed over to the scarab-headed baby and whispered something in the general area of where a set of ears should be. The bug boy looked agitated, but moved two seats away, freeing up the chair next to Raggleswamp. The new arrival took the seat and starting elbowing Raggleswamp. The two were clearly close friends.

Warhinder hopped off her desk and sighed. She surveyed the class. "Gideon won't be coming anymore. He got published." Her eyes closed briefly and her lips pouted. "The big lug will be missed."

She must have been referring to Gideon Thump. I recalled the book that had been on Harmstrike's desk at my morning meeting with the dean. I noticed the two girls looked particularly saddened. Had they been friends of the hero?

Warhinder nodded at each of us as she took attendance. When she finished counting, her face revealed frustration. It was clear not everyone was present. She started counting a second time, but was interrupted by the arrival of her late student. He charged into the room, arms and head flailing about. The bird clinging to his shoulder squawked at the turbulent treatment as the student settled into the seat next to me.

His head appeared to be an oversized noodle with eyes and a mouth stretched across it. I recognized him as the boy who had barged into Dean Harmstrike's office on my first visit. Small goggles perched atop his forehead, making me wonder if they would even fit over his bulbous eyes. His head wiggled about, clearly reflecting his antsy demeanor.

"So sorry I'm late again, Professor. Had a bit of trouble with a pair of gorgonsquids in the aquaria. Fenwick Noodlemen present and accounted for."

The two girls pantomimed the appearance of goggles on their own foreheads. He noticed and slipped off his aquatic gear and stored it in a satchel dangling by his side. As he did this, he paid little heed to the bird on his shoulder. His forearm brushed against its beak. This set the bird off. It began squawking with abandon.

Warhinder walked over. Based on my experience with the faculty so far, I fully expected her to toss the bird out the window and scold the boy for bringing a pet. Instead, she placed a hand atop the bird's purple crest and began stroking it. "There, there, Mrs. Noodlemen, your son didn't mean to treat you so rudely. It's okay." Her voice combined with her stroking soothed the bird.

The bird cooed briefly then fell silent. The professor placed her hands on the boy's shoulders and kneeled to be at his eye level. "Fenwick, I don't mind if you arrive late. I'd rather you get here in one piece and consider the safety of your mother perched there." She glanced at the bird. "No more rough rides for her, okay?"

Fenwick blushed. It was clear he had a mild crush on his teacher. "Yes, Professor Warhinder."

The professor stood up and slid over to stand in front of me. "While we did lose Gideon, we gained a new hero." She looked at me and motioned me to stand up. "This is Irving Wishbutton. Another hero is among us. That's always cause for celebration, isn't it?"

As I stood, she put one arm around me and squeezed me tight. "Nice to be here," I said meekly.

I noticed Raggleswamp giving me a sour look.

Warhinder released me and returned to sit on her desk. "We also have Lord Raggleswamp in attendance for the first time today. He has all the delicious potential to be quite the dastardly scoundrel."

She ushered in a round of clapping for the villain who stood on his chair and pumped his fists.

"Everyone at the academy has been so gracious. I'm looking forward to broadening my knowledge and getting to know more of the faculty and students here. I'm especially curious to see what Soul Searching has to offer. I've heard only good things about your tutelage, Madame Professor." Raggleswamp bowed toward Warhinder before sitting down.

She nodded at the villain and smiled. "Irving and Raggleswamp, you've arrived in midsession. We've already met about a half dozen times. You'll both need to make sure you pick up these review packets I prepared." She patted two blue folders stacked high with papers. "They'll help get you up to speed on what we've covered so far. We have a mid-term exam in two weeks, and I expect you both to be prepared."

Raggleswamp rubbed his hands together and saluted Warhinder. I wagged a thumbs up, but the signal was lost in my cloudy hands.

Warhinder stood and walked around inside the circle of chairs. The class pulled out slender notebooks. I followed suit, noticing that Raggleswamp didn't fetch anything with which to take notes on. She began, "We've been talking about playing our parts. Last class, your discussion of free will was very telling. I especially liked what King Druukus added to the conversation. Very good insights, your majesty." She curtsied toward the king.

The bearded royal next to me smiled. I liked how she made each of us feel worthy.

"Today, let's talk about what's your role? Why are you here? Why is the Academy here?" Warhinder said.

Wow, she was asking the very questions I wanted answered. Was this the class where I would finally get some answers?

Professor Warhinder continued, "Before we begin talking as a group, let's pair up and dialog about those very questions. Take five minutes, and then we'll share as a whole class." She waved for us to select partners.

King Druukus winked at me. "Young Wishbutton, I would love to chew your ear off. I've heard so much about you already, but I promised the Scarab Cherub over there I'd partner with him at the next opportunity." He pointed at the bug boy who was already scampering toward the king.

"No problem, your majesty." I bowed slightly.

Fenwick Noodlemen tapped my shoulder. "Hey, Wishbutton, let's you and I shoot the breeze. What do you say?"

I shifted to face the noodle boy and his avian parent. "Uh, sure. Will your mom be joining in?"

"Nah, don't mind her. She's more of a listener." Fenwick arched his eyebrows and smiled.

His mother snapped at his noodle head in protest, irked at his dismissive comment.

I wanted to keep our discussion on track so I restated the first question. "What role do you two play?"

Fenwick pointed his thumbs proudly at his chest. "I'm a hero. I'm on a quest. Bet you can guess what my quest is. It's pretty obvious." His eyes darted toward his mother and back as he comically shrugged his eyebrows.

"You're mom, she's trapped in a bird's body and you have to get her back?"

"Right you are. Not only that, but this noodle isn't my real noodle. I'm a normal boy, but the curse that was cast on my family gave my mom her feathery figure and me this silly flexible noggin." He wagged his head about. It jiggled.

"I thought we couldn't associate with others from our cast?" I said.

"True. That is an important edict, but my author cursed my mom and me to be stuck with each other until we fix our predicament. So, in our case, it's allowed." Fenwick beamed with pride.

Realizing we needed to move on, I said, "I'm a hero. My mom's going to be my villain, I think. Then again, I might actually be working for the bad guys. They're called the Wellwishers. My author's a little vague about their true motives."

"That sounds deep," said Fenwick. He licked his lips, then leaned in. He lowered his voice, but not his excitement. "I work at the Menagerie, you know."

I nodded hesitantly. Where was he going with this? We were supposed to be discussing why we were here and why the Academy existed. Not that I thought he had much to add. His responses so far painted him as a very simple hero.

"I got in trouble for those emberhounds of yours escaping," he said, his voice barely a whisper now.

"Sorry about that. I wish... "

"No, no, not your fault. Not anyone's fault." Fenwick paused. He reached over and slid his hand under my vague chin. He directed my head upwards so as to be sure I was looking at him when he spoke next. "Actually, I think it is somebody's fault. Somebody real high up here at the Academy. Nothing's ever escaped the Menagerie. Too many magical spells in place. It just doesn't happen."

"So why did it happen?"

"Meet me at the Menagerie tonight, and I'll tell you. Meet me at midnight. That's when my shift ends. I'll give you a little tour and tell you what I know." Fenwick glanced at Professor Warhinder.

"You don't want to tell me now because of her?" I asked.

"No, no, she's cool. Warhinder's the nicest teacher here. I don't think she's a part of it at all." He looked at his classmates. "But the others in here, they could be reporting back to him. I can't take the chance, alright?"

"Okay," I said.

Professor Warhinder clapped her hands three times. The buzz of discussion stopped. "Time's up. Let's share some of your insights, okay?" She skipped across the room and snagged Raggleswamp. "In fact, let's hear from our two newest first."

Fenwick nudged me and muttered, "Get up there and spill what we talked about, but not what we really talked about, okay?"

Noodlemen's mother squawked at her son to be quiet. He shrunk back into his seat as I stood and moved to the center of the room.

Once again, all eyes were on me. I looked over at Raggleswamp. He projected anticipation, the opposite of what I was feeling.

He seized the spotlight and began.


Chapter 46 Mind Aligned

During the fight sequence with the wish agents and the Nowrii, Irving was going to find another wish. He wouldn't use it, but the process of retrieving the wish would be looked at more closely. Irving would stumble across how to determine the wish's nature through his jacket.

As he set upon trimming the overgrown shrubs in the garden bed, his mind whirled with ideas for the next chapter. He would have to write the chapter on Sunday afternoon. His wife was taking the kids to a clay place to make special gifts for the grandparents.

Irving would hesitate in taking sides, allowing the wish agents to plow through the Nowrii without interference. His sister, she wouldn't play it safe. While Irving remained indecisive about the Nowrii's story of how the wish agents couldn't be trusted, Tyler didn't hang back in taking sides. She joined Allegro in the battle. In the process, she would be injured. Nothing lethal, but severe enough to force Irving to agree to return to Wish Haven where she could be helped.

The battle would end with Allegro and his people beaten back, their view of the wish agents driven more toward mistrust.

The writer liked the direction the story was heading. He needed the characters to see that there was true threat and jeopardy in this world of wishes. This book, it was important that the stakes be real and have consequence. He felt his earlier works, while all ages, had been lacking in action and peril. Irving's story would still be true to writing for a wide audience, would still be centered on strong character moments and relationships, but conflict and danger would also be constants.

He focused on the thorny hedge in front of him. He would figure out the wish Irving had obtained over the next few days and write the chapter on Sunday.


****

Raggleswamp went on and on about himself and his story. He went into great detail about the elaborate background his author had created for him. There was extensive talk of his family tree. He paraded out a multitude of titles and aliases for himself. He shared way too many particulars about his base of operations and previous schemes.

I noticed one little fact he left out: his motivation for being a bad guy. I decided not to call attention to this.

On the topics of why he was here and why the academy was here, he had little to offer, giving pat answers clearly designed to please the teacher.

At the end of his brief praise of the academy and the faculty, he turned to look at Warhinder, expecting to receive a nod of approval for his obvious kissing up. Warhinder smiled briefly and nodded. I could tell from Raggleswamp's reaction, he was displeased with her dismissive response.

She turned to me. "Let's here from Irving. Tell us what you're thinking?"

"I'm Irving Wishbutton. I'm a hero who might be working for the bad guys." I looked at Raggleswamp for a reaction. He didn't disappoint.

"Oh, trying your hand in my playground are you? Sounds like you might find a dark path ahead of you," he commented.

I knew he did this to rattle me. He had no desire to have me join him as a comrade in evil. He just wanted to tear at my heroic leanings. "No, I think I'm still a hero. It's the people I'm supposed to take orders from who might be doing bad things. I think my writer is going to have me uncover what's truly going on and fix it."

Warhinder said, "There are many heroes in quest stories who find the villains are the very same would be saints who send them out on their adventures. It's a common theme of the one against the establishment. It plays on our fear of institutions we grew up with being riddled with decay and falling apart from an evil born within." All the while she was delivering such heavy notions, she held fast to its free-spirited nature. She smiled again, this time with noticeable warmth. "Continue, Irving."

I liked how she drew my name out, like it was a cherished word she didn't want to leave her lips. "I don't think all the wish agents are evil. I think it's just the Wellwishers. They're my inner circle."

I paused. My author was working on ideas for me. He wasn't writing them down, but his thoughts were still shaping my narrative. The event he was planning hit me hard. I shut my eyes and rubbed my forehead.

King Druukus appeared at my side and placed an arm under my left elbow to lend support. I leaned against him. "Young Wishbutton, are you all right? Something inward strikes at you?" he said.

"My writer is working on me. He was just thinking about the battle sequence he was about to write." I let the King guide me to my seat. My legs felt like rubber bands.

Professor Warhinder patted my shoulder and leaned down to console me. "Your writer, is he writing a chapter now?"

"No, he's thinking about writing. He's just playing with ideas," I said.

Warhinder looked at her students. Her voice contained a trace of amazement. "This is rare, class. Most of us are only in contact with our writers when they set pen to paper or type our stories on a keyboard." She looked back at me. "Irving, are you saying you can sense your author's brainstorming? He's not writing on paper or typing it out?"

"Yes, why? Isn't that how it's supposed to happen? When he writes about me, I can feel it. It's like he's moving furniture around in my head, placing ideas and motives where he wants them and switching out elements of my life that he doesn't want. When he brainstorms, it feels the same way."

Warhinder stood and looked down at me not with pity, but with bit of awe. "Very few of us are that connected. We only get updated when our writers are actively writing. The connection you have to your author is very rare."

"What does that mean?" Raggleswamp said. He eyed me with suspicion.

"It means the author is very attuned to his story. It means that Irving is likely to become one of the greats." Warhinder walked back to her desk and sat, drawing her feet up away from the floor.

"I don't understand," I said.

Warhinder's earrings swayed about as she grew more animated. "It means your author is very invested in you. That he is truly living and breathing you alongside his real life. From that kind of inspiration, truly great literary figures have come into being. This academy has been host to only about a dozen that I know of."

"Are there any others like me here?" I asked.

"Only one, currently," she said.

Raggleswamp interrupted. "This is preposterous. He's a smudge! His writer hasn't even figured out what face he presents to the world. How can he be of such importance? He's lying! He just doesn't want to talk in front of the class. I know him. He's just trying to hide a queasy stomach from us. He's weak in the knees because he doesn't like being front and center, that's all."

King Druukus joined in, "Still your tongue, mudspawn! Irving is a hero. I sense he is speaking true. I for one am thrilled to be attending class with someone of such potential nobility." He bowed his head at me.

Warhinder made her way over to Raggleswamp and put an arm around him. Because of his short stature, she had to go to one knee to comfort him. "Lord Raggleswamp, we are all special. Irving has his connection to his author, and you have such an ornate family background. And your secret lair, it's quite sophisticated."

"And it does have the latest in high tech science and magic weaponry alongside comfortable seating for when I convene my malicious meetings with my underlings," Raggleswamp added.

She slapped his back playfully. "See, you have underlings. You forgot to tell us that." She looked out at the class. "Who here has underlings? I mean, really, that's quite a lot you have going for you." She nodded vigorously.

Everyone in class nodded, following the Professor's lead. The villain's self-importance swelled once again.

Warhinder clapped her hands together and rubbed them in anticipation. "Let's refocus our discussion as to how and why this academy is here. Anyone have any theories?"

King Druukus led the discussion as all offered theories, even a refreshed Raggleswamp. I was the only one who retreated from the conversation. My mind was reeling at what my author was contemplating. His thoughts had struck me hard. Before, being a part of his brainstorming had felt like simple nudging and prodding, as he played with my memories.

His decision to harm my sister is what had caused me to lose it.

I didn't know what would happen to her character here at the academy. Would she also receive the same injury? If so, should I warn her before our author took pen in hand and delivered the blow?

Professor Warhinder saw I was not engaged in the discussion and made her way over to me. She whispered, "I can tell you need someone to talk to about what just happened. Please stay after class. I would be happy to listen to what burdens you bear."

I smiled weakly and tried my best to listen.


Chapter 47 Confession Session

Someone had wished for the ability to switch their bodies with someone else. That was the wish Irving would find in the battle.

He put down the papers he had been grading and thought more about the wish. With what he had planned to happen to Irving's sister later in the story, was it too coincidental to have the wish focus on body hopping? He decided it was too good of a wish to not use and made a note to make sure the solution to Tyler's impending predicament would not be so easily solved by the wish. He knew he was treading on the stereotypical notion of wishes backfiring on the maker, but he trusted he could produce a scene that would be unique and heighten the tension.

He again thought of the scene where Tyler would be abducted. He needed to get them home for the abduction to have real world consequences. His next few scenes would be in Wish Haven, but he'd have to get them back to their father so Tyler could be whisked away by Teardrop.

He shuffled the graded papers on his lap. Looking at the time, he decided the last four or five factual reports could be looked over tomorrow night. He stuffed them in his backpack and grabbed Echo's leash. The family dog needed a quick walk before he went up to bed.

So many ideas were swimming about in his head. He was thankful that the project was proving so easy to write. He found himself eagerly looking forward to the concentrated writing time he would have on Sunday afternoon.

After nudging the back storm door open, he escorted their golden retriever out into a starless night. No chance to wish upon a star. The only wishing happening tonight would be intertwined in the brainstorming in his head as he fell asleep.


****

Eventually, I found myself drawn back into the class conversation. Much of the credit was due to King Druukus. I found his questions were my own. Warhinder encouraged us to answer our own questions with theories. She rarely stepped in to prove or disprove the theories tossed into the mix.

After class, I did stay behind. Professor Warhinder pulled up a chair in front of me and sat backwards on it. She leaned in, coiling and uncoiling a long curl on her index finger. "What did you think of our class today?"

"It was good. King Druukus is quite the talker."

She smirked. "He is. Did you find answers that made sense to you?"

I paused. Why was she taking such an interest in me? Was she about to humiliate me like Ringle and Snitpick had? If so, she didn't want an audience. I found that odd.

Her next observation made me wonder if she could see right through me. "Your eyes betray you. You don't know why I'm here. Why I'm cornering you." She leaned closer. "I can understand why you would think I'm positioning myself to pounce on you. All your other instructors have done so, lining you up to take a fall."

I nodded, knowing she didn't need my acknowledgement of her reading.

Her eyes crinkled playfully at the edges when she smiled. "I'm not out to get you, Irving. This is Soul Searching. I want you to find answers. I want you to find out who you are."

"And you want us to find out what this Academy is?" I regretted the mistrust my question contained.

"More so than others on staff, I assure you." For the first time, I detected an undertone of frustration. "I believe, you need to know your surroundings if you hope to know yourself."
I said, "But why bother with this? Why have a school for characters who will go on to be trapped in books?"

She frowned. "Is that what you believe? That we are locked into a life with only one outcome? That all of our paths have been written for us?"

"Well, we are characters. Somebody is writing what we did and will do. Once we get published, we'll only exist on the printed page." With my last sentence, my voice trailed off.

"We are so much more than just characters on a page, acting out tasks assigned to us. You overlook a major factor."

"What?"

Her eyes danced. "The reader's imagination. Each person that will open your book, Irving, will bring all of their experiences, all their hopes, dreams and nightmares along with them as they navigate through your adventure. Each time you are read, your life is reborn. New aspects are created. You're never read the same way twice. Do you understand what a gift you are?"

"I guess." My shoulders slumped. What she said made sense, but it didn't alter my mood.

"In class today, when you felt faint, something hit you hard. What was your author planning?" She put a hand on my shoulder. "And please only share with me if you want to."

I didn't feel like sharing, but she had been so sincere and upfront with me. I sighed and confessed, "My writer was working on a scene with me and my sister. It was a battle we were in. He wants her to be hurt. When he sits down to write my next chapter, she's going to be injured."

She tucked her lower lip inside her mouth. "Not a lethal blow?"

"No, she gets hurt bad enough that I agree to go back to Wish Haven where they can provide the right care." I felt my eyes welling up. If I cried, would tears fall from my smudged face?

"Irving, I'm sorry."

"Do I tell her? Should she know? Is she going to be hurt here?" I clenched my fists.

Warhinder said, "When he writes the chapter, the wounds will appear on her. She will report to the infirmary and get help. It will be okay."

"Won't it hurt her?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yes, but she'll heal. You said he's not planning on ending her life." Warhinder lowered her voice.

"I should warn her." I stood up suddenly. She fell back, startled.

"No, Irving. You aren't to have contact with others in your cast. You can't afford to break any more rules." Her eyes pleaded. "Let me alert the infirmary. They can send someone to watch over her at a distance. Then, when she is struck, they can be there to help her. They will lessen the pain as much as possible."

I ranted, "I should be there at her side. I'm her brother. That's a stupid rule. Howcum Fenwick gets to drag around his mother and Roon gets to be with her brother? Why are they so special?"

She replied, keeping her voice calm, "Fenwick and his mother are cursed to be together. They have special permission. As to your friend, I don't know her, but I would suspect she also has some sticky plot point that makes it so she has to be side by side with her brother."

"Not anymore," I said. My mind still whirled around the image of my sister's impending injury.

"What do you mean?"

I wasn't sure I should share what was happening with Roon. It felt like I was betraying her confidence. I looked at Warhinder. She projected trust and compassion. I took a chance and spilled. "Roon's brother was revised. He was with her and now he's gone. Their writer decided it would be better if she ran her little detective quest solo."

She rubbed her knees. "Irving, revision happens. I am sorry it happened to your friend. In the end, it will be better for her."

I yelled, "But what about her brother? He had to go away. Now he's in some forsaken place called Revision Ravine!"

Warhinder's eyes widened. "Your friend, Roon, she told you of the ravine?"

I nodded.

"It's a dangerous place, Irving. It lies at the edge of the Academy. It is not a place you visit willingly." As if suspecting my intent, she added, "You should not go there."

What I did next didn't surprise me. After all, my writer had been quite particular about my flaw. I fibbed. "I would never go there."

She paused, unconvinced. "Don't go. You can't bring someone back to the Academy unless the author decides."

"So it's like being dead?"

"Not completely. It's a limbo of sorts. The writer may bring your friend's brother back later in the story or redesign him for another story."

I said, "Or never work on him again. In that case, he's stuck in Revision Ravine?"

She nodded. "You need to help Roon. She needs the support of a friend to help her move on. Don't even think of going there with her. It's not a nice place."

I was silent.

Sensing she had not totally convinced me, she said, "Don't go, Irving. There are other ways you can help her. Don't trip over yourself to be the hero. You're not ready for that yet." She stepped closer and held her gaze. "I was a smudge like you when I arrived."

I knew she was changing the subject and I was glad. I didn't want her to hound me anymore about Roon and her brother. "How'd that go for you?"

"Not easy, but it helped me to see things more clearly. It helped me to see what others go through."

It was my turn to change the subject. I didn't want her sympathy. Being a smudge, I was getting used to it. I targeted something she had brought up in class. "The teachers are characters, right?"

"Yes, everyone here is a character," she said.

"Then do teachers come and go quite a bit? They get published just as much as the students do, right?"

A nervous twinge played across her face. "Well, some do get published, but many of the faculty are simply, for lack of a better word, stuck here."

"That doesn't sound good."

Warhinder explained, "It's not bad. I guess that came out wrong. See, when a writer abandons a project or never finds a publisher, their character doesn't leave the Academy. It's only natural that Harmstrike select instructors who will stay for a while."

"So do you resent your students for moving on?" I asked.

"I don't. Me, not at all." She walked back to her desk and stowed away a stack of notebooks in her bag.

I knew from her answer that she only spoke for herself. That could mean other instructors did not think so kindly of their classes. It made a wicked sense.

"I'm glad you're here. You've answered more of my questions that anyone else," I added. "You can't tell, but I have a big smile on my face."

"Glad to be of service, Irving." She winked. "Smudged face or not, I can read you just fine."

I grabbed my book bag and headed to the door. "Thanks for a great class, Professor."

I looked back to catch her smile. She said, "It's you who makes the class. You sure there're no other questions rattling around in that murky noggin of yours?"

I held the door open, leaning against it to keep it from closing. "Just one. You said there's another like me. Another person here who can sense when their author brainstorms without writing their ideas on paper."

"Yes."

"Who is it?"

She hopped off her desk and retrieved a sweater from a wall hook. Gliding across the room toward me, she offered, "I think that's something you already know. After all, you've already met them and made quite an impression."

She exited past me, playfully nudging me in the ribs. "See you next week. Don't do anything dangerous on your first weekend here, okay?"

I lied again, "Okay."

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