Feel free to read part one and part two first if you want to catch up.
From part two:
Papu's voice rang out in the darkness. "We're about to go meggle, so hold on."
I heard Gregg say, "That's not another weird direction, is it?"
Right then, the boat turned meggle.
And now, onward:
Best I can describe it is like Left flipping with Right and back again. When it finished, the world still swirled around me. Way more intense than going pard.
A light shone up ahead. I squinted as we floated toward it. Warm air brushed my face, and I opened my eyes to a clear blue sky. Gnarling trees and chrome flowers covered the hills. Elves and other creatures rode floating platforms over cobblestone roads. The bluff behind us had a tall cave entrance where our world only had rock; up on top was an oak tree, no house at all.
Kidoh drove the boat across the river, and without stopping, climbed onto the riverbed with large, spidery legs. They carried us to the road and picked up speed. I held on to the edge, and to Zoe.
Other people on the road sent us odd glances. At first I thought it was the boat, but then I realized it was us. They'd never seen humans before. They thought we were strange.
We cleared the woods, and a glimmering city of giant pagodas, capped with spires and onion domes, appeared beside us. It made our dinky little town look even dinkier. On the closer ones, you could see statues set in the walls, and trees growing out of them.
"This is Frangont," Papu said. "My papa's the mayor. Isn't it beautiful?"
No one in their right mind could deny it.
The boat turned and skittered uphill, through another forest. The trees had small huts built among them. There were elves, and kappas, and people three feet tall, and people made of wood
The trees spread out as we approached the top of the hill.
"There's Rina's house." Papu pointed ahead at a large mansion, with towers that jutted up like spikes.
We stopped in front of a fence of tangled wood. Papu exchanged words with guard who resembled a telephone pole, and the wood split and shriveled and curled up to let us through. Kidoh lowered the boat to the ground. Papu hopped out.
"We can't take the boat with us," Papu said. "We have to walk the rest of the way. C'mon, everybody."
We got out and stretched and moved around. It had been a bumpy and strange ride, like a roller coaster on a space shuttle.
"You okay?" I asked Zoe, who was trying to straighten out her hair.
"I'm fine." She looked back toward the city. "I never thought any place could be so gorgeous."
I took her hand, and we walked up the hill. Papu had taken the lead with Art. Gregg was behind them. Poor Martin was trudging behind us, so Zoe and I slowed down a little to stay with him. "You okay, Martin?"
"I'm fine," he wheezed, "just a little carsick. Or boat sick. I dunno. Maybe it was going meggle." An odd smile formed. "I heard you two on the boat. Congratulations."
Gregg turned to us. "Oh, yeah, nice work, I guess. Seems like everybody's lovey-dovey now. You notice Art and Papu?" The two of them chatted with each other, and hardly paid attention to us.
"I thought it was just me," Zoe said.
"They've been stuck to each other ever since she brought him to the Dorm. Talk about love at first sight." Gregg rubbed his eyes. "Anybody else get a headache after that weird turn?"
We gathered up at the door. Papu pushed the doorbell, and a young elf maid answered. "Ah, Miss Papu. I've been expecting you. And you must be Milady's classmates. I am Letty. Welcome to the Algruent estate."
"Are the Duke and Duchess here?" Papu said.
"No, they're out at a diplomatic meeting. They are very busy. They won't be back for a few more days. But you are here to see Lady Rina, no?"
"Does she know we're here?"
"I tried to tell her, but she kept shouting at me to go away. Come with me."
Letty led us down a long hallway, with trees embedded in the walls, and large stained-glass windows. Other than Letty, the only faces we saw were portraits of ancient and stately elves.
"Imagine living in a place like this." Gregg said. His voice echoed.
"Is it really just you and her right now?" I asked Letty.
She kept her eyes forward. "Most of the staff is off while Milord and Milady are away. As I said, they are very busy, and their work is very important."
A chill crawled up my spine. All alone, in a place this vast?
We came to a large living room, with a curved staircase, and a tall mirror across from it. As we passed through, a voice spoke out of nowhere. "Who are these children? Letty, what are they doing here?"
Letty jumped and spun toward the mirror. "Forgive me, Milady. They are Czarina's classmates. Papu Hargo brought them."
Instead of Letty's reflection, the mirror showed a woman in a long silvery gown. "Oh, I see." She was so beautiful. Her hair was gold with a cloudy texture, and her eyes were a sharp green. "I am Lady Lenna, Duchess of Frangont. Czarina is my daughter. I apologize for not being there in person." The subtle curl of her mouth faded. "Are you the ones who pelted my little Czarina?"
I glanced at Zoe first, but of course it wasn't just her. We all raised our hands.
"Do you have any idea," Lady Lenna said, "how painful it was for me, as a mother, to hear of such a thing?" She stuck her nose up. "You're all lucky I don't curse you right now. Letty, tell them what I did to the Piskies who spoiled my party with their bawdy limericks."
Letty cringed. "Let's just say, the Piskies are in one place, and their tongues are in another."
Zoe squeezed my hand. Art and Gregg covered their mouths in horror. Lenna's beauty gave it even more brutality. If she wrinkled her brow slightly, she would look furious. If she ever bared her teeth or scrunched her nose, we'd be as good as dead.
"T-that's why we're here, Duchess," Papu said. "They came to apologize."
"Did you? Good." She hinted another smile. "Please understand, I am not blind. I know Czarina misbehaves. What child doesn't, every now and then? I do my best to encourage her. I shower her with gifts--everything she could want--and still she acts out. What more can I do?"
I gaped at her. She probably would have given Rina a diamond-encrusted doll after the stunts she'd pulled this week. What more encouragement would Rina need?
"No matter," Lady Lenna said. "I must be off. Make your business quick." She faded, and the mirror showed us in her place. We could finally breathe.
"Can you believe that woman?" Zoe said. "I thought I was gonna die."
I rubbed Zoe's hand.
Letty coughed. "Lady Rina's room is upstairs."
We followed the maid upstairs as if marching to our own funeral. My hand kept a firm grip on Zoe's. Papu tapped my shoulder on the way up. "You still have it, don't you?"
I felt the Bangle inside my pocket. "Sure, no problem."
Letty led us around a corner to a heavy door. We heard shouting and crashing inside. You could almost feel Rina's tantrum through it. Letty heaved. "She's at it again." She knocked, and the noises stopped.
Rina's voice said, "What?"
"We'd like to come in," Papu said.
"Papu?" The door opened. Rina's face was red and moist. She wore a blue nightgown, and held a porcelain doll covered in diamonds. She saw us, and started back and thrust the doll out. "What the hell are you doing here?" She pointed the doll at Zoe. "And you! What do you want? This is all your fault, you know."
"My fault?" Zoe screeched. "You're the one who treated our whole class like crap, you spoiled witch."
"You think I liked being put in school with you stupid, ugly pookas?" She threw the doll to the ground, and it broke in two. "I should fry you right here." Her hands lit up.
"No, no, calm down." Papu dipped between them, her hands glowing. Zoe stepped forward, but something stopped her, as if a window stood between her and Papu. Rina couldn't go forward, either.
"Rina, Zoe Carmichael is here because she has something to say. Isn't that right, Zoe?"
I touched Zoe's shoulder. She looked at me, and slumped. "Do I really have to?"
"Please?" Papu said. "Just tell her."
She curled up her arms and pursed her lips. "Rina," she said, "I'm sorry."
The glow left Rina's hands. "What?"
"I said I'm sorry. I lost my temper, and it wasn't the right thing to do. I apologize."
"Yeah, I'm sorry, too," I said. "I threw my rice at you."
Art, Martin, and Gregg all apologized in turn.
Rina glared at us. "Really?" She dropped her hands. "All right then. I guess that settles it. You may leave now."
"No, that's not it," Papu said. "Don't you have something to say?"
"Like what?" Rina turned her back to us. "You apologize. I accept. We are done here, no?"
Papu grabbed Rina and twisted her around. "We are not done. You owe them an apology, too."
"An apology? To them?" Rina laughed. "I won't condescend to these humans."
"But--the exchange! You could put the whole program at risk."
"So what? It is a farce. Three hundred years without going to Earth, and now they make us go? And they expect us to follow their rules? Ha! The sooner the exchange dies, the better."
"Is that why you stole the Bangle?"
Rina crooked her brow. "You can't prove it."
"We have it with us. Do you want to put it on?"
Rina's eyes flared up. "You wouldn't dare."
"Apologize, and you won't have to wear it. We'll forget it ever happened."
"No! I won't do it! You can't make me!"
Rina thrust out her hand, and it glowed white hot. Papu's eyes flashed. Zoe started back. The others were scrambling back out. This time, I knew we'd be vaporized.
But I saw her wrist, hanging out in the open. She didn't even notice me. I took the Bangle out of my pocket and out of the bag and opened the hinge. I ran up and closed it around her wrist.
Rina dropped her mouth wide open. Her hand went out like a candle. The bracelet tightened up firmly around her wrist. She pulled, but there was no getting it off.
"No--no--" Then, turning to me, "You worm! You vermin! You ignorant underbred hick little pooka!"
She pounded on my chest. "How dare you? How dare you?" Tears spilled out of her eyes. "My magic... how could you..."
Papu put her hand on Rina's shoulder. "Now do you have something to say?"
Rina sniffed, and rubbed her wrist. Her face no longer had the same shine. The color of her hair wasn't as bold. Even her clothes seemed a little more drab.
"I'm sorry." She hissed out a sigh. "I'm really sorry. I guess I hurt you a lot." She looked at Papu. "I'm sorry about the Bangle, too. Promise you won't tell my father."
"It's okay," Papu said. "Zoe?"
Zoe let her arms down and sighed. "Okay. Apology accepted."
"Yeah," I said. "Apology accepted."
My friends drew in and said the same thing.
Rina rubbed her eyes, and sniffed again.
"Will you be coming back with us?" Papu said.
"Not yet," Rina said. "Later, when I'm feeling better. I suppose I'll see the rest of you Monday." She straightened up and jabbed her finger out. "Now get out of my house, you pookas!"
We rushed out, remembering she still had porcelain dolls to throw.
The maid walked us to the front entrance without saying a thing. Kidoh drove us to the stream, and rowed back to the cave. We felt that weird lurch-twist-fliparound again, and this time I heard Martin puke over the side of the boat.
We each got an elf to take us home. Art left with Papu, naturally; Martin with Zsusa, and so on. Galam took me home, and assured me I would always be a friend of the Fair Folk.
Mom let me in, and heated my dinner while I told her all about it. She especially liked the part where I asked Zoe out.
Monday arrived, and Rina returned to class with the Bangle still on her wrist. She showed it to Mrs. Horn. I watched, in case Mrs. Horn touched it and released her.
"I'll give it a few more days," she said.
Rina snarled at me. Not that it bothered me. I'd had a good weekend. Mom had taken me and Zoe out on Sunday, and I couldn't wait until PE, when I could see her again.
I could finally relax in my desk.
"So, Rina," I said, as she sat behind me, "ready to play nice?"
"Go to hell," she said, and kicked my seat.
Other than that, school was pretty much normal.
<==Go to part one
<==Or go to part two