Days passed without news. Asphorela and her companions struggled to pay attention during classes and other events. During their free time, they couldn’t help speculating about their suspicions. Many of their friends made brazen comments about their newfound closeness. One of Asphorela’s best friends, Carley, acted utterly offended when Asphorela refused to join her for lunch. Carley was so upset that Asphorela questioned whether the girl would summon a sprite after her. Carley’s pouty lips and furrowed eyebrows said it all. Asphorela felt guilty about not letting her friend in on the secret, which is why she steered clear of the girl, but the last tweaks Daphne had put on the protection spell kept her silent.
After two weeks of exasperated worry and conjecture, the sparrow brought long awaited news. The little bird flapped her wings excitedly. “There are three, there are three, there are three that plot. Father Neldoroth, Sister Georgina and Father Ecthlion are stirring the pot.”
Asphorela’s eyes widened when she heard the names of Father Neldoroth’s two accomplices. Surely the bird was mistaken about Sister Georgina! That old bat was kookier than a gnome hooked on pixiedust. Oh, and Father Ecthlion? He was such a quiet man. His biggest achievement was to stand around with a peaceful expression on his face while looking saintly. The bird repeated her account once more. Asphorela thanked her and gave her a gold trinket. The bird puffed up her chest, clearly proud of herself, and flew away.
Asphorela shared her news with the eagerly awaiting Heleconius and Daphne.
“This runs deep. What a mess. I think we should tell High Priestess Amaryllis. Surely she’s a good one. We can trust her, right?”
Asphorela considered her suggestion. “I’ve spent hours with her and did not see or hear anything suspicious.” She shrugged and asked, “What do you think Heleconius?”
Heleconius seemed to ponder the situation carefully. She rubbed her hands together, paused, and nodded a few times as if she were arguing with herself. Then she straightened her back and said, “I think we can trust her.” She looked at Asphorela, “You’re her apprentice. Do you know where we can find her?”
Asphorela thought about where the priestess might be, and then she groaned, “Oh no. I had forgotten.”
Heleconius looked at her quizzically.
Asphorella muttered to herself, “Not today of all days.”
Daphne suddenly looked anxious and fired a few questions at Asphorela as if she were firing a gun. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Asphorela stomped her foot on one the cobblestones beneath her. “I can’t believe I forgot. Sister Amaryllis went to the temple of Bergamot and won’t be back until the ceremony.”
Heleconius sighed and Daphne started chewing on her fingernails.
Daphne spit one of her torn fingernail tips onto the ground and asked, “What should we do? Who else can we trust? Maybe the birds missed something or someone? How can we really know?”
Heleconius snapped her fingers. “Pipe down, I can’t think properly when you carry on like a pixie on pop rocks.”
Daphne looked indignant and started to argue.
Asphorela watched the two friends banter as an idea blossomed on the outskirts of her mind. What if? Hmm . . .
“I got it!” Asphorela’s voice carried throughout the courtyard and caused the other girls to stop bickering.
A young boy, barely old enough to be called a novice, looked up from reading a spell book. He was seated on a stone bench across the courtyard. Asphorela was sure the boy could not overhear their conversation, but to be safe, she pulled her companions into an alcove around the corner.
“I have an idea.” Asphorela whispered. She quickly explained, “I can reveal the plot to everyone at the ceremony by casting The Spell of Revelation. It’s a gold-grade spell and it even exceeds the level of difficulty set forth by the Ceremonial decrees. It’ll be perfect.”
“Genius!” Heleconius said, “Except for one thing, not even the most accomplished sorceresses is sure to pull that spell off . . . and if you do it wrong, well . . .”
Daphne broke in, “It’s too much risk. There’s got to be another way.”
Asphorela shook her head, “No, it’s the only way. I can do this. Trust me. I studied it with the High Priestess when she was assisting the queen in catching the thief who stole her golden broom. I know how it works.”
Daphne began to protest, “But no novice is powerful enough to pull . . .”
“But nothing,” Heleconius interrupted. “If Asphorela says she can do it, then she can do it. She’s the most powerful novice in our class. Heck, she’s almost as powerful as Merlin.”
Asphorela thought the way Heleconius compared her to Merlin was a bit much, but she appreciated the vote of confidence. “It’s settled then. Now we must gather the items needed for the spell.”
Daphne still looked unsure, but went along with the program. “Ok, what do we need?”
Asphorela found herself annoyed when she realized she was mimicking Daphne by chewing, actually chewing, on her fingertip. She quickly dismissed the nervous gesture and said, “Um, let me think. We need at least one hair from each of the elders involved.” She gestured to Heleconius. “Do you think you can get a hair from Father Neldoroth?”
Heleconius looked doubtful. “How do you expect me to do that? I don’t have any classes with him, and I never see him around the temple. I’d have to sneak into his bedchambers while he’s asleep, and that’s out of the question.”
Daphne blurted out, “Do you want to live? Or would you prefer that Asphorela kill us all?”
Put that way, even Asphorela thought she’d say yes to the task. But just in case Heleconius was trying to back out, she added, “I’d do it, but after hearing Father Neldoroth in the forest, I don’t think I can face him again.” She glanced at Daphne before going on, “and we both know Daphne’s not up for the job.”
Daphne’s eyes grew cold and her brow wrinkled. She started to argue, then thought better of it. Within a couple of seconds, she was agreeing, “Yeah Heleconius. I’m too clumsy. You know that. You’re the only one who can do it.”
Heleconius slumped, resigned to her assignment. “Fine, but if I get caught . . .” She didn’t finish her sentence.
Asphorela waited a beat, then continued, “Daphne, you have Sister Georgina in class later today, right?”
Daphne nodded resolutely.
“Good, you can find a way to get one of her hairs in class, and I . . .” Asphorela paused as a group of novices walked around the corner. When the coast was clear, she continued, “I will get one from Father Ecthlion.”
The three girls split apart, each set on accomplishing her mission.
Tune in next Wednesday for Part 4!