Chapter 53: Rules
“Any other questions?” Professor Lal asked, taking a nibble of her apple. “Since I don’t have anywhere to be right now, I may as well take as much time as I can. Of course, I might refuse to answer some of your questions. You girls don’t need to know absolutely everything.” She smirked. “But I do want to keep you safe.”
Corrie found herself suddenly seized with anxiety. She really wanted to ask about the faerie ball the night before, where she’d seen Professor Lal. But that would probably be a question she didn’t want to answer. And what would Corrie do then? She didn’t want to distrust her professor, especially when she’d been giving them answers that made so much sense, but it was hard to trust anyone who seemed so friendly with Mardalan, Feloc, and Belara. (Though, of course, Mardalan hadn’t been there.)
Luckily, Dawn let her off the hook, at least for the moment, by asking her own question. “What about the candy at the party last night? Did that come from this market? Tom seemed pretty sure it was that guy’s fault… Elrath, but now that I know about this place, I’m not so sure.”
“Elrath?” Professor Lal shook her head. “I don’t know him. What’s this candy?”
“I’m not sure what kind it was—it was just in a big pile at this Halloween party. It… made me act kind of drugged.” Dawn seemed hesitant, not wanting to talk about it, and she had her arm wrapped tightly around Rico’s. (He seemed to be doing the strong silent thing today.) “I danced with this guy, a faerie with antlers. Tom said his name was Elrath and that he’d done whatever to the candy. And then he took off—he didn’t really explain anything.”
“I think I know who you mean.” Professor Lal smiled. “And if Tom is taking care of him, there’s certainly no need to worry. I’m glad he’s found another human to take an interest in; it seems to be good for him.”
“So you do know him?” Corrie asked.
“Of course. He’s been at this campus for a very long time—much longer than I have. And to answer the original question, if it was packaged as humans would do it, with plastic, it didn’t come from this market. Everything here is organic, or at least has a semblance of being so. I’m sure it was just this Elrath playing a prank—perhaps a rather malicious one. I wonder if we should be putting more rules in place regarding who gets to spend time with the humans…”
“I don’t think that would help us very much,” said Dawn.
“No, I suppose not. But then, if you hadn’t broken the rules your own campus has, then… well, things would be different.”
“You’re one to talk about rules,” Corrie said, the words emerging from her mouth before she entirely knew what she was saying.
“I’m not reprimanding you,” said Professor Lal, raising her eyebrows. “If anyone can break the rules safely, it’s you, with the knowledge you have. But I don’t want you to get caught by someone who will punish you.”
Corrie took a deep breath and let go of Edie’s hand, somehow wanting to keep from involving her in this, though there was no way to really separate herself. “Did you know that I went out to the woods last night?”
This time Professor Lal responded with a sharp frown. “By yourself, on Halloween? That really isn’t safe, Corrie. You’re lucky nothing happened to you.”
“I know.” Corrie decided to skip the description of the twig-creature that had chased her. That was only going to prove Professor Lal’s point. “But I saw you.”
“What do you mean?”
Corrie gritted her teeth. Was she going to deny it? “I couldn’t find anyone to ask about what had happened to Dawn at the party, so I went looking. I saw the ball—at Feloc and Belara’s place, out in the woods. I didn’t go in because it was obviously dangerous. But I saw you there. You were dancing, and you sure looked like you were having a good time with them.”
There was a moment of silence, so quiet that Corrie could tell the silence spell was two-way; she couldn’t hear anything going on at the market. She couldn’t look away from Professor Lal to her friends, but she hoped they were all looking at her for an explanation. Finally Professor Lal shrugged. “Was that supposed to be a secret?”
Corrie resisted the urge to sigh. “You didn’t tell us.”
She pursed her lips in annoyance. “I am not beholden for my actions to anyone, especially my students. If anything it is the other way around. I am capable of choosing my own amusements.”
“But you keep telling us to stay away from them,” Roe said quietly. “I thought they were dangerous.”
“They are not dangerous to me.” Then Professor Lal smiled suddenly. “I see. You think I am conspiring with them. No, it is only that they have the best parties, and many of the faeries on campus attend. I do not think I even spoke to Feloc or Belara except to greet them as the hosts, and I never even saw Mardalan.”