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Chapter Four

Mauldibamm blinked into existence around us when I slammed the Escher Cube's last row of squares into place. Normally, the city's colorful lights, bouncy music, and vibrant sense of life would have lifted my spirits in an instant.


Today, though, I just shoved the Cube back into my pocket and stormed away, leaving a very confused Ethan behind.


"Henry?" he called, following behind me. "Henry, what's wrong? Who was that back there?"


I ignored him and continued down the street, not knowing where I was going and not caring. We were close to the center of Mauldibamm, near Emmett Kelly Park. Food stalls had been set up on both sides of the street, filling the air with a dozen delicious smells. For once, though, the idea of getting a snack didn't even occur to me.


"Henry!" Ethan yelled again, grabbing me by the arm. I stopped in the middle of the road, but refused to look at him. I didn't want him to see how close I was to breaking down in tears.


It wasn't fair. I tried so hard. I did so good. Why couldn't she just leave me alone?


The green flash told me that Jade had appeared. She usually stayed in her gem when Ethan and I went on hunts. Don't get me wrong, having a freaking genie on our side would have been a huge help, but Ethan would have had to waste another wish for that to happen. That's just how it was. Unless her master said the words "I wish," her hands were tied.


"Henry just needs a minute," she said, gently taking Ethan's hand from my arm. This time when I walked away, they didn't follow.


"Henry and her cousin," she said hesitantly, probably thinking I couldn't hear her, "they, uh…don't get along."


"That red haired girl was her cousin?"


"Her name is Alicia Wolfe. She's…" she paused to think. "…Henry's father's sister's daughter."


"I've never seen Henry just explode like that, though. What happened between them?"


"To Henry, nothing. To Alicia, everything."


"What does that—"


"Ethan," Jade interrupted, "Alicia was supposed to be the next Hunter. She’s incredibly strong, her magic in unmatched, and she’s a master with her chainhammer. Everyone assumed she was the obvious choice to be McGus’ successor—until McGus chose Henry instead."


With my cheeks burning and my eyes stinging, I walked until I couldn't hear them anymore and threw myself onto a bench.


"You look like you've had a rough day," another voice said. I looked up to see one of the stall owners looking at me with a kind smile. "Can I get you anything?"


"No thanks," I mumbled.


Stupid freaking Cousin Gumdrop. So what if McGus had chosen to train me instead of her? Why couldn't she just move on? Why couldn't she live her own freaking life? Why did she have to keep barging back into mine to tell me how weak and pathetic I am compared to her?


And most of all, why did she have to be right?


“HOT FUDGE NACHO SUNDAE WITH ONIONS, FRENCH FRIES, AND A CHERRY ON TOP!” I cursed at the top of my lungs, and then blushed when everyone turned to look at me.


A minute later, Ethan came to sit next to me.


"Hey," he said softly, "are you gonna be okay?"


I sniffled and rubbed my nose. "Yeah, I just need—"


"Here you are! On the house!"


I looked up just as the food stall owner shoved something into my hands. I cocked my head and stared at it: a mess of cheese, melted chocolate, tortilla chips, and…


It was a hot fudge nacho sundae with onions, french fries, and a cherry on top.


"How did you do that?" I asked.


He winked. "You've got to be prepared for anything in this city."


I quickly weighed the pros and cons of changing my religion to worship this guy, decided against it, and took a bite.


"It's…" I whispered, my eyes widening. "It's terrible!"


The stall owner shrugged. "Hey, you're the one who ordered it!"


I looked from him to the mountain of horribleness on my lap, and then burst into laughter. The whole situation was so ridiculous that, even with Cousin Gumdrop's words fresh in my mind, I couldn't stay mad. I took one more bite to make sure—yep, it was still awful—and then dumped it in the trash and stood up.


"Thanks," I said to the owner. "I guess I did need that."


Setting off down the road, I made for the southeast side of Mauldibamm. Ethan and Jade followed behind me, whispering back and forth in an effort to figure out what had just happened. I smiled. Let them wonder. Nothing ruins a good joke like having to explain it.


As we headed farther south, the city's colors faded to more muted tones. Still bright and cheerful, but calmer than what we'd seen in the city's center. This was a place for more "adult" humor. Less hysterical laughter and more "Jolly good show, old bean, wot wot!" Because of that, I hardly ever came here. Still, I knew the way to the place we were going well enough that we didn't get lost more than twice.


"Hey, Henry?" Ethan said as we passed beneath a sign advertising Duke Tottingham Broffenhangletompten’s Box o' Cheery Good Times. "I, um…I just wanted to say that…uh…"


"What's up?" I asked, frowning. "If you keep swallowing your words like that, they'll give you gas and come out the other end."


"I'm sorry," he finally said, his cheeks going red. "For, you know, what happened at the club."


I looked at him. "Are you saying you brought Cousin Gumdrop there?"


"No, not that!" he stammered. "It's the…my, uh…when I screwed up back there."


"And that was what again?"


Unconsciously, his hand went to the crystal spellhammer holstered at his side. "When I accidentally conjured all that fire."


I paused at a three and a halfway intersection, looked around, and chose the leftish path.


"Ethan," I said with a chuckle, "you do realize the place was already on fire, right?"


"But I nearly blasted your head off!" he insisted, stubbornly refusing to see the wisdom in my words and cheer up.


I smiled and knocked the side of my skull. "What, this old thing? It's not like I'm using it for anything important!"




"Look, you made a goof!" I interrupted him. "You're only human, so quit beating yourself up about it. Calzone sauerkraut stew, you're moodier than McGus!"


Ethan looked at me, then Jade, and then down at his feet. "Only human. Right."


Jade stepped up so that she was walking on Ethan's other side.


"What if you…" she paused, then looked away. "Never mind."


Ethan perked up. "What is it?"


Slowly, she reached out and took her gem core in her fingers and lifted it a little. "I can help you learn magic. Just wish for it, and I'll put all the knowledge of a master sorcerer in your head."


Ethan came to a dead halt in the middle of the sidewalk, and I stopped to observe. He had a thoughtful look in his eyes, like he was actually considering making his second—


"No," he abruptly said.


"No?" Jade and I said in unison. I’d been convinced he was actually going to do it, and judging by the look of surprise on Jade's face, so had she.


"Why?" asked Jade.


Again, Ethan touched the spellhammer. "Because McGus is already teaching me magic. It'll take a while. Years, probably. But why waste a wish for something I'll have someday anyway?"


Jade and I shared a look, but neither of us argued with him. Instead, I took the lead again, marching further into the southeast corner of Mauldibamm. Before long, even the muted colors began to fade, until we were surrounded by buildings that were mostly gray, with only the barest hints of color. Like jokes that were almost entirely forgotten, but had once brought out the brightest of laughter.


"So, where are we going, again?" Ethan asked.


I stopped, almost making Ethan walk into me from behind, and thrust my hands out in front of me.


"Behold, Ethan Griggs," I proclaimed in my most dramatic voice, "the most incredible thing you've ever laid eyes on: New You!"


Ethan poked his head out from behind me, eyes alight with the hope of seeing something magical.


That hope immediately vanished.


"That," he said flatly, "is a pharmacy."

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