I thought I’d just be helping fix more holes in the upper forest today. I was wrong!
Darwin and Curie came by for lunch, as they often do. Afterward, we all went up to the upper forest like I’d expected. Only instead of leading us to a hole in the upper forest, Darwin led us to where he’d stashed some dire spider eggs.
I don’t think Alex recognized the spot. Kris frowned, looking around like she half-recognized where we were. Bristol, like me, certainly knew!
I cleared my throat, confused, and eyed our two shieldknots. “Generally, it’s my day to help you, but I don’t know what you want with spiders.”
“Not spiders again!” Kris cried, shuddering.
Curie smiled at her. “Not for you, no. You and Bristol can come with me. We’ll look more closely at the plants you’ve seemed most interested in.”
“Sure,” Kris agreed, brightening at that idea.
“You expect me to leave two of my charges with you,” Bristol groused, frowning at Darwin. “After the way you let Lacey get bit by one of your lostsnakes.”
“You’re marked as wander-students and a wander-students’ guard now,” Darwin reminded him with a patient smile. “As people who cannot stay and shouldn’t be touched by lostsnakes or any other knot-creatures.”
“Hold on!” I held up a hand like a traffic cop, hoping to stop their spat before it went any further. “I know what your plan was.”
“To alter the spiders to make their webs not burn and them preferentially attack foreign bugs,” Alex supplied eagerly. “So they can help bridge holes in the upper forest and catch the bugs dragons keep dropping.”
“So it is,” Darwin agreed, suitably distracted. He inclined his head to Alex.
“I don’t have any quarrel with that,” I said hastily. As far as I’m concerned, anything that helps the upper forest keeps dragons and stuff out protects us. So helping it improve is simply a good thing to do. “Just that it’s usually my turn to help you shieldknots, and I have no idea how to do that. You’ll need Alex for this.”
“You and Alex,” Darwin corrected, giving me a tolerant smile, the kind a teacher might give well-meaning kids who’d missed the point. “Him to tell me what needs to be done, you to tell me if I’ve done it correctly.”
Bristol’s eyes glinted, his scowl replaced by an evil grin. “You doubt your own magic!”
“I do not!” Darwin snapped.
At the same time, Curie snarled, “He doesn’t!”
Me, I tried not to laugh.
“I don’t see how else to interpret your words,” Bristol said gleefully. “You are uncertain if you can follow Alex’s directions and intend to rely on Lacey to make sure you have.”
“I’m a strong wish,” Darwin said with dignity. “But I’m not a loadstone, much less a Key.” He gestured up at the spider egg cache overhead. “Normally, it would be a life or an animal’s task to alter a creature. Even an insect or a spider would do!”
“Oh, you’re out of your field,” Alex said, nodding.
“That’s rough,” Kris said sympathetically. She waved her hand in a small circle to take in us all. “We’re all supposed to be trained to fill in for one another, but even so, I don’t understand animals as well as Alex.”
“Precisely,” Darwin agreed smugly, smiling at them.
“It is easiest to do your own work,” Curie seconded happily.
Bristol snorted. His voice grew sweet, poisonously so. “That would only be true if you lacked a good life or fauna to draw on or borrow from. I hadn’t realized there were that few of you left.”
Darwin scowled at him. Curie glowered at him too.
I shrugged, spreading my hands. “You’re fay. You use other people’s magic all the time.”
“Not all the time,” Darwin protested stiffly.
“Quite often in a living realm,” Bristol countered, laughing.
“You misunderstand,” Curie stated, glowering at me and Bristol. “It’s not that we couldn’t borrow from our seniors or draw on our juniors. It’s that it would be a waste of resources when Darwin can simply use Alex’s knowledge and Lacey’s spells.”
Alex scratched his head. “If you’ve got people trained in altering animals, surely, this should be a job for them.”
“It’s generally a job for Keys,” Darwin explained, turning to Alex and ignoring Bristol for the moment. “Under most circumstances, it would be wrong for me to remake any creature.”
“I’m glad to hear you’ve got some bioethics,” Kris said happily.
The three fay ignored her, at least in part, I suspect, because they didn’t know what ‘bioethics’ meant.
“It’s not something I’ve done before,” Darwin continued. “Thus, I want to draw on your knowledge, Alex, and your magic, Lacey.” He sighed. “Only you’re from Hill and your magic doesn’t knot properly. I need you here to help.”
“Sounds reasonable to me,” Alex said.
“Not to me.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “We’ve contracted that I help you one day, we have a day off, Alex and/or Kris help you one day, we have a day off; repeat.”
“You are demanding services beyond those we’ve agreed to,” Bristol agreed with a wicked smile.
Darwin sighed. “I’ll grant you two days before I seek your aid again.”
“That’s fair,” Alex said happily.
“We could use an extra day for our own work,” Kris agreed enthusiastically.
Darwin grinned. Curie smiled triumphantly.
Bristol, on the other hand, scowled and glared at our two scientists.
I sighed. I really wish they wouldn’t agree like that! I would have liked to have kept negotiating. No one, at least no fay, ever expects you to take their first offer!
But Alex and Kris had agreed, so we were stuck.
So that’s what we did today. Kris and Bristol went off with Curie to investigate upper forest plants while Alex and I helped Darwin change the spider eggs so when they hatched, the spiders would be useful for the upper forest.