Our longest chapter to date . . . gosh dangit, Kacie. For Nedjma, Jose, and Dr. Lulu – things go down. Friends rejoin friends. Books smack into faces. And of course, Kacie and Luna have lots to say about it.
“I’m fine, Chanel!”
Nedjma stumbled down the hall in a blind daze. Her shoulders moved strangely –– convulsing, as if her ghostly form was caught between dry sobbing and shaking with shock. All around her, “CODE COSMO” blared through the intercom.
On her shoulder, Chanel squeaked insistently, like she’d done ever since Nedjma had stumbled out of the laboratory.
“She lied,” Nedjma said, staring down the hallway, not seeing it. “She lied about everything.”
Chanel huffed like, You don’t know that for sure!
“And then I left her there with Rena,” Nedjma said, still running blindly forward. “Or –– or left Rena with her –– I don’t know ––”
Overhead, the mechanical voice suddenly seemed to melt: “CODE COSssmmooooo . . .”
The alarm fell silent. Nedjma stopped a second, dancing on the spot as though debating whether to turn and run back to the lab. Who had shut off the alarm? And what did it mean for Lulu?
Distracted, Nedjma wheeled around a corner –– and skidded to a stop. A dozen specters filled the hall. Pairs of red, soulless eyes locked onto her.
“Necromaaaancer,” said one.
“Out of boooody,” observed another.
“Freeee meaaal,” a third chimed in.
“Wait!” Nedjma burst out. With wild eyes, she said, “Somebody told me that something inside Demonwall Mountain turns necromancer ghosts into –– whatever you guys are. Is that true? Is it?”
A few of the specters exchanged looks. One of them shrugged.
“We caaaame from theeere. Befooore, we were . . .”
The speaking specter hesitated. Its blank face twitched a little as it seemed to try and remember.
“. . . nothing.”
“She was telling the truth about that one,” Nedjma breathed. Then, louder, she demanded: “Who made you this way? Rena?”
All of the specters groaned in protest.
The others chimed in similar, moaning protests, until one at the back, the biggest and most imposing of the bunch, grunted: “Lulu.”
Nedjma stumbled backwards a step. “She –– she wasn’t kidding. She did do this –– ack!”
All of a sudden, Nedjma contorted in pain. Chanel squeaked in alarm.
“My body,” Nedjma spit through her spectral teeth. “I gotta get back –– arg –– I’m dying!”
She took off towards the specters, summoning black goop and lobbing it their way. Predictably, they recoiled and groaned loudly.
By the time she reached the courtyard again, pink sunlight streaked the sky. Soon it would be morning, and security cameras or not, Nedjma’s body wouldn’t stay hidden much longer ––
She collapsed onto the fake grass, shuddering.
“I’ve never been –– in Verithiel –– this long,” she managed, wincing at Chanel. “Last time –– hospital –– not even close ––”
Her body was so near, tangled in a tree ten yards away. The twunkie-yellow parachute stuck out like a neon sign between the dark leaves. But even at this distance, the black necromantic residue pouring off Nedjma’s corpse was visible –– streaming from her face, her hands, even through her clothes –– and Nedjma’s spirit couldn’t move ––
“There she is!” exclaimed a familiar, too-loud voice.
“Nooooot goooood,” commented another.
Shaking, Nedjma lifted her eyes. Jose and Anti-Kenneth had just stumbled into sight, their arms full of bulky material, and were running towards Nedjma’s body. Five specters floated hungrily behind them.
“J-Jose,” Nedjma called –– but pointlessly. Jose couldn’t hear her in the Kingdom of Verithiel, and she knew it. But what else could she do? In seconds, she would be dead.
“Dag –– she’s still in Verithiel,” said Jose. He’d reached Nedjma’s tree and was poking her limp, dangling arm.
“Noooot goood,” Anti-Kenneth said again, sniffing Nedjma’s hand. Jose swatted him (“Dude!”) but Anti-Kenneth brushed him away. “She’s . . . dyyyyyying.”
Jose’s face drained. “But –– but she’s always kinda dead ––”
“Wooorse,” Anti-Kenneth interrupted. “Almost . . . out of tiiiime.” He stiffened suddenly, looking directly at the loitering spectres. “Speeeectrees. They’re here tooo. Waaant to –– eat ––”
He seemed to be struggling to form the words –– which was understandable, since this was more than Jose or Nedjma had ever heard him speak.
“So what do we do?” Jose demanded. “How can we stop them?”
Anti-Kenneth just shook his head. He looked as aloof as ever, though an anxious crease had formed between his eyebrows.
Then, very slowly, he turned his soulless red eyes directly onto Nedjma’s spirit.
She collapsed, shuddering. Something strange was happening to her vision –– as if Verithiel’s glow was growing, blocking out the corporeal world . . .
“Ch-Chanel,” Nedjma muttered through chattering teeth. “G-g-go. I d-don’t-t w-want y-you t-to s-s-see . . .”
Dark forms blocked out Nedjma’s surroundings. A couple of specters must have drifted from the others; they loomed directly over her, swimming fuzzily in her vision. Nedjma knew enough of dark magic to know her pain would end in a moment, when her body died . . . so what were these two doing? What did they want from her?
Something big and solid dropped onto her spirit, and all at once, the pain vanished. Her eyes flew open –– her living, corporeal eyes.
“I-I-I’m back,” she stammered. “N-n-not d-dead.”
The two forms standing over her appeared in sharper focus: Jose and Anti-Kenneth. Jose looked absolutely terrified; Anti-Kenneth just seemed sulky, probably because he’d been the one to detangle Nedjma’s body from the tree and dump it onto her suffering spirit.
Jose dropped to Nedjma’s side. “Nedj? You’re okay, right? You’re okay, Nedj?”
Nedjma opened her mouth, blinked, then closed it. Her lip trembled.
“She knew this would happen,” she whispered hoarsely.
Jose glanced nervously at Anti-Kenneth, who ignored him (he’d gotten distracted by a nearby butterfly). “Er –– who knew what would happen?”
“Lulu,” said Nedjma, her voice breaking. “Jose, she lied. She lied about everything. And I think –– I think she might’ve been trying to kill me tonight.”
“What?” Jose yelped. “But she’s our friend! She’s the reason we’re here!”
“She created the specters,” Nedjma said, her voice barely a whisper.
Jose’s mouth fell open.
“I know,” said Nedjma, closing her eyes. “And there’s more . . .”
Still laying there, Nedjma detailed her last few hours to Jose: overhearing Professor Saltzman, Mr. Halcomb, and Harley’s confusing meeting; spotting the maybe-HCP suit; and finally, Lulu’s confession.
“Her sister,” Jose breathed. “Her sister killed her.”
He ran his hands through his shaggy hair. “So she’s still in there? Lulu –– she’s still with Rena?”
“She told me to leave her,” Nedjma said. Her expression had transformed during the recap –– from hurt and stunned to cold and closed-off. “She also told me to spend the night looking for the suits, even though she definitely knows a necromancer can’t be outside their body for that long.”
“Unless she could’ve done it when she was alive,” Jose pointed out. “She had a lot more practice than you –– maybe she forgot. After all, you forgot too.”
“I had a lot on my mind –– are you seriously siding with her?” Nedjma demanded, finally sitting up.
“No, I’m just trying to make it all make sense!” said Jose. “Like, why would she tell us somebody’s making a specter army to take over the Allied Peaks? And why would she want us at the mouth of the mountain? Like, what?”
“I don’t know,” Nedjma said, dropping her head into her hands. She raised her eyes a little, looking at Jose through her fingers. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do now.”
“Find Lulu,” said Jose without missing a beat. When Nedjma stiffened, he insisted, “Look, we don’t know for sure she’s bad! Maybe –– maybe she had a good reason for lying to us. But if we make her tell us the truth, then –– well, we’ll know!”
“She’s still with Rena,” Nedjma pointed out. “We can’t fight both of them off.”
“Oh, can’t we?” said Jose, raising an eyebrow. With a flourish, he reached behind his back. Then something seemed to occur to him, and he dropped his arms sheepishly.
“I may or may not have forgot I lost Basic Spells.” He paused, rubbing his chin. “Buuuut . . .”
Squeezing his eyes closed, Jose scrunched his nose and exclaimed, “Summon my backpack!”
He and Nedjma waited a few seconds. The butterfly landed on Anti-Kenneth’s nose; he sneezed it off.
Clang! Clang! CLANG!
Suddenly, a flailing figure came banging out of the castle’s nearest door, ping-ponging between two artificial trees in the process. She zoomed towards them, hanging in midair off of Jose’s levitating backpack ––
The backpack did a nosedive when it reached Nedjma, Jose, and Anti-Kenneth, swinging its passenger along with it. She smacked down into the grass in a crumpled heap.
“Niha!” Jose yelped.
“Ni-who?” said Nedjma.
Niha Sackville-Bagg untangled her limbs and scrambled to her feet. Her brown eyes darted between Nedjma, Jose, Anti-Kenneth.
“What . . . the HECK just happened?”
“Wizard magic,” said Jose feebly, opening the backpack and lifting Basic Spells for Basic Wizards.
“You’re supposed to be in a holding cell!” said Niha. “You are so not allowed to escape! And who are you?” she demanded, looking at Nedjma.
“I can explain,” said Nedjma, holding up her hands in surrender, “but this might help . . .”
Carefully, she took Basic Spells from Jose’s hands and walked towards Niha (ignoring Jose’s bewildered expression). She held out the book and pointed to a spot on the cover. “See this?”
Niha leaned in. “Uh, see wha––”
Nedjma slammed the book hard into Niha’s face.
“OUCH!” Niha stumbled backwards, clutching her nose. Jose clapped both hands over his mouth. Anti-Kenneth made a noise that could’ve been laughter, although in his droning voice, it was hard to tell.
“Oh, shoot, I thought that would knock her out,” said Nedjma.
“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” Niha bellowed.
“Well, it works in the movies,” Nedjma pointed out. She lifted a finger and stepped right up to Niha, who took the opportunity to rant: “Oh, you kids are in a MOUNTAIN of trouble, you’re gonna be A-RRES-TED, you hear me? Say goodbye to your futures, you ––”
One tap on the chest from Nedjma, and Niha died instantly.
“Baaaaad ideeaaaa,” said Anti-Kenneth. “Speecters close byyyy.”
“It’ll only be for a minute,” Nedjma told him. She hesitated, giving him a strange look. “You can see into Verithiel, can’t you?”
Anti-Kenneth nodded. Then he lunged for another butterfly.
“My hero,” Nedjma muttered, rolling her eyes. “Hey! Anti-Kenneth!” He stopped snapping at the butterfly to give her a blank look. “Watch out for the specters, okay? Warn me if they get too close.”
Anti-Kenneth blinked slowly. Then he nodded again.
Nedjma turned towards Jose. “Take out as many of the cameras as possible with magic.” She kneeled down next to Niha. Jose opened Basic Spells, hesitated, then crouched beside her.
“You know, Anti-Kenneth’s not so bad.” He glanced at the lifeless security guard between them. “What are you gonna do?”
Nedjma’s choppy black bangs had fallen over her face. When she looked at Jose, the shadows they cast resembled a jagged mountain range.
“Get to Lulu,” she said, “without using necromancy.”
Jose’s eyes widened. “Oooh. Stealth mode.”
A few minutes later, Niha stirred.
“Mmmm . . . mmmf?”
Groggily, she glanced down at herself –– and gasped. Her uniform was gone, replaced with koozebane black jeans, a stupidly edgy t-shirt, and a purple windbreaker. Her ankles and wrists were bound together, and knotted to the lowest branch of a nearby tree. Worst of all, a wad of cloth had been stuffed into her mouth like a gag.
“Mmrrrrff!” she exploded.
Wriggling and squirming, she took a closer look at the materials tying her wrists. She blinked. If she could have spoken, she would’ve said one word: “Parachute?”
“Hello . . . Top of the mountain to you –– I mean, morning . . . Uh, hi there . . .”
“You’re not convincing,” Jose hissed in Nedjma’s ear.
“Shut up,” Nedjma hissed back.
She walked briskly down the hall, leading Jose and Anti-Kenneth along by the wrists (which the two were pressing together, and giving every indication that they were handcuffed together –– only, minus the cuffs). Every once in a while, Nedjma would stop and fidget, as if trying to magically transform Niha’s crisp blue uniform back to her original clothes. Workers in labcoats had started filing into the building, scattering the halls with clacking shoes and morning chatter. Luckily, no one had seemed to notice Niha, tucked out of sight at the very edge of the courtyard.
Or at least, not yet.
Nedjma quickened her pace.
“Who ya got there?” wondered a passing man.
“Trespassers,” Nedmja called back in an uncharacteristically high and cheery voice. “Found them asleep outside –– total burnouts. Ha ha ha . . .”
The man gave her a strange look. He walked away.
Once he disappeared, Nedjma’s face sank from fakely sunny back to grim and cold. Jose watched her as she tugged him along, frowning slightly.
“We’re close,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
Anti-Kenneth sniffed the air. “I sssseeense speee–mmmf.”
Nedjma slapped a hand over his mouth. “Shut up, stupid!”
She noticed two scientists watching her. Luckily, when Nedjma caught the closest one’s eye, she nodded like, Good work. Excellent discipline.
“Of course you sense them, the lab’s full of them,” Nedjma hissed sharply. “This whole place is ––”
A heavyset woman wheeled into sight, wearing a pair of overalls and waving a mallet over her head.
“Oh, good, a guard,” she said, spotting Nedjma. She hurried forward and slapped her free hand onto Nedjma’s shoulder. Nedjma’s eyes popped open.
“What clearance have you got?” the woman demanded.
“Uh ––” Nedjma cleared her throat one too many times. “Second Level.”
“You mean Intermediate?” said the woman. “Jeez, you people are always changing the terms. Listen –– the you-know-what suits from Project Executrix are missing. The perps might still be in the building though –– report that to head of security –– NOW.”
The woman glanced at Jose and Anti-Kenneth. “Are these ––”
“Just druggies, nothing serious,” said Nedjma swiftly. “Er –– keep telling as many people as you can about this, I’ll find my boss.”
“Hurry!” insisted the woman. She zoomed down the hall, still shouting, “ROBBERY! ROBBERY!”
“Sooooo we might know something about that,” said Jose.
Nedjma whipped around so fast she almost fell over. “You stole HCP suits?”
“Yeah! They’re outside! By . . .” Jose’s expression sunk. “By the tree we found you in.”
Nedjma cursed. She stepped backwards and forwards, apparently torn, until finally she demanded, “And you didn’t tell me?”
“Your stuff seemed more serious!” Jose said defensively. “I forgot.”
“Well, my tree was out of the way, and the cameras are still off,” Nedjma thought out loud, talking at light-speed, “which somebody is bound to notice in the next few minutes, which means we have exactly no time to get Lulu and the suits and get out of here before things get ugly, and that means we should choose the most important ––”
“We have to get Lulu,” Jose said.
Nedjma went rigid. For a heartbeat, she looked like she wanted to shout at Jose. Then she growled and started marching forward, dragging him and Anti-Kenneth along again.
When they finally slowed, the hallway was deserted. There seemed to be only one active door in this section of the castle, one that –– Nedjma knew –– concealed a very specific elevator.
Anti-Kenneth fidgeted anxiously. “Baaaad . . . baaaaaaaad . . .”
“Here’s the security key,” said Jose, handing the plastic card over. “They’re in there?”
Nedjma didn’t answer. She turned the keycard over in her hands, scowling at the wall.
“Nedj . . .” said Jose gently. “We really don’t know anything yet.”
“I know enough,” Nedjma growled. “I know she lied.”
Emotion flashed across her face like a lightning bolt. She winced.
“I know we only met her yesterday, and I shouldn’t even care, but . . . no. Forget it,” Nedjma grunted. “We don’t have time for this.”
With a tiny, evil smile, Jose lifted his hands. “Soulba––”
“NOPE.” Nedjma pressed a finger over his lips. Her cheeks muscles jumped like she was fighting her own voice, until the words tumbled out: “Look, maybe it was nice to not be the only necromancer for once –– to know someone who used their dark magic for good, and for a minute there, she made me feel like I could be good, like my magic wasn’t wrong or bad, and –– and she actually liked my magic, she wanted to teach me –– and the worst part? I was starting to want her to!”
She cut off, breathing hard. Meaningfully, Jose met her eyes. “And maybe you still have that.”
Nedjma looked back at him for a second, before turning her gaze onto the wire-coated wall. “Or maybe not.”
She tapped the keycard onto the wall, and it slid open. They stepped into the elevator. Nedjma punched the same button she’d watched Professor Saltzman choose before. A short, rattly ride passed in silence . . .
Then the elevator doors slid open again, revealing Rena’s laboratory.
Right away, Nedjma and Jose’s eyes dropped down to an unconscious figure on the ground –– Professor Saltzman. Jose gasped.
“Holy moly! That chick looks just like her!”
Then someone else gasped too.
Dr. Lulu was hovering over Rena’s desk, a disarray of papers sprawled out in front of her. Instantly, her eyes found Nedjma’s.
“You came back.”
Lulu was staring at Nedjma like she was the only thing in the world that mattered. Nedjma’s cheeks flushed –– but out of anger or embarrassment, it wasn’t clear.
“Did you kill her?” she grunted, motioning to Rena’s limp body.
“Kill her? No!” said Lulu. “I used an, ehm, alternative sedative.”
Her glowing blue eyes flicked to a large textbook sitting beside her on the desk.
“Huh. Guess that does work,” Jose remarked. He shook his head to clear it. “You have to tell us the truth, Louis. What’s going on? Why did you lie to us?”
Reluctantly, Dr.Lulu turned her attention to Jose. “I –– what you must understand –– well ––” She took a deep breath. “I had no idea Rena was behind this. But I’ve been scouring her notes, and –– ugh, that stupid girl! I knew she was a specter-loving fool, but her plan is more ludicrous than I ever could have dreamed ––”
“Dr. Saltzman,” Nedjma interrupted. “What’s your plan? The real one?”
Lulu’s face fell a little. “Ah. So we’re back to Dr. Saltzman.” She ghosted forward, right through the desk. Her hands clasped in front of her.
“What I told you . . . It wasn’t all lies. I really did believe someone was using my work to create an army and take over the Peaks –– and, in a way, I was correct. But to admit that the whole situation was my fault . . .” She shook her head. “I told you I had journeyed to Demonwall’s mouth many times over –– this is true. I saw specters emerging from the mountain in droves, but I could never enter –– or at least, not without the risk of becoming a spectre myself.
“However, I created the specters from ghosts, when I lived. They . . . they were my worst failures.”
Anti-Kenneth made an uncomfortable noise. Frowning between him and the doctor, Jose asked, “How’d you even do that? Like, what were you trying to do?”
Dr. Lulu opened her mouth, closed it again, then sighed.
“I was trying to unlock necromancy’s greatest power. A power no one had yet to unlock.”
She sighed again.
“I wanted to bring the dead back to life.”
Nedjma and Jose blinked at once.
“Like, not ghosts?” Jose asked.
“Not ghosts,” Dr. Saltzman agreed. “We tried mechanical bodies first, since our test subjects’ original bodies had decomposed. This failed on multiple occasions, so my team and I worked to create a new organic form for them –– which, obviously, failed as well. Hence, specters.”
“I thought you were a doctor,” Nedjma said darkly. “Or did you lie about that too?”
Dr. Lulu’s face creased. “Necromancy could only go so far with life-saving. I wanted to do more.”
“That’s wrong.” Nedjma shook her head, not meeting Dr. Saltzman’s eyes. “It’s unnatural and twisted ––”
“Well, I know that now!” Dr. Lulu huffed. “I promise you, my unfinished business is not completing my work. It’s fixing my mistake.”
“So it’s like you said?” Jose asked hopefully. “We’re gonna stop Rena and all the specters from taking over the world?”
“That is part of it, more or less,” Dr. Lulu agreed. “Now, we’d better destroy these papers and bug out before Rena wakes up ––”
“No, not good enough,” Nedjma interrupted. “Tell us –– simply –– what your whole plan is. Now.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Dr. Saltzman. She glanced at Anti-Kenneth, and a hint of that same cold disdain from yesterday –– from when she’d killed him in cold blood –– surfaced on her face.
“I’ve got to destroy all the specters. Permanently.”
A heavy pause fell between them all.
“Whaaaaaat?” said Anti-Kenneth.
“Destroy them?” Jose yelped. “But –– but what if there are nice specters?”
The doctor ignored the boys. Her ghostly blue eyes settled on Nedjma’s face yet again.
“But before anything else, there’s –– there’s something I need to do.”
She bent over Rena and withdrew a keycard from her labcoat. Then she flew past Rena’s shelves of black and red liquids, to a wall covered in large silvery squares.
“There was something else Rena told me . . . something I found in her notes as well . . .”
She scanned each square, reading little inscriptions, until finally she settled on the very last one. With a shaking ghostly hand, she tapped the keycard to the square’s surface . . . and the little silver door opened. A long metallic shelf slid out of the wall, holding a perfectly preserved body . . .
Dr. Louis Saltzman.
Nedjma and Jose actually screamed. A few seconds later, Anti-Kenneth joined in too.
“Quiet, quiet!” Lulu hissed. “Please!”
“YOU JUST SAID THIS STUFF WAS BAD!” Nedjma bellowed. “YOU LIED AGAIN!”
“I didn’t ––”
“AND YOU SAID SPECTERS ATE YOUR BODY LIKE THEY DID WITH THAT OLD MAN IN THE MORGUE, BUT YOU LIED ABOUT THAT TOO ––”
“That’s what I always thought, but Rena must have ––”
“AND NOW YOU’RE GONNA TAKE YOUR BODY BACK EVEN THOUGH YOU SAID YOU CHANGED ––”
“I’M DOING THIS FOR YOU!” Lulu exploded.
Nedjma looked like she’d been smacked with a shovel. She blinked aggressively, stumbling backwards a step.
“I don’t want to take this body, I have no idea what she’s done to keep it stable,” said Lulu, a shudder in her voice. “But if I take it, you and Jose will be able to go home. You’ll be safe.”
Nedjma kept blinking. Jose gaped at Dr. Lulu, stammering, “But –– but ––”
“But nothing,” said Lulu firmly. “I’ve dragged you into enough trouble. You both are too young, too untrained, and too valuable to risk.”
She hovered over the body. Her ethereal shoulders trembled. The expression on her face was not the careful hope of a sick person finding their cure, or the wild exhilaration of a drowning victim glimpsing the water’s surface . . . No, it was the look of an alcoholic walking into a bar. An ex-gambler stepping into a casino.
A person terrified of herself.
Nedjma stumbled forward: “Lulu, wait ––”
Too late. Dr. Saltzman dove into the corpse in a spectral blue wisp. The body shook and shuddered, and right as the last of Dr. Lulu’s ghost disappeared, it emitted a faint glowing outline.
Then it slumped, motionless.
Slowly, Nedjma and Jose exchanged a terrified look. They moved forward together until they reached the body’s sides.
“L . . . Lulu?” Nedjma whispered.
The eyes snapped open. They were dark blue.
“Eurgh,” groaned the body in Dr. Lulu’s voice. “Oh sweet science, I haven’t brushed my teeth in twenty years.”
Then she sat bolt upright.
“Oh my god, she did it.” Dr. Lulu stared wide-eyed into space. “She actually resurrected me.”
“You’re alive,” squeaked Nedjma
“You’re so . . . solid,” said Jose in awe, poking Dr. Lulu’s arm.
Dr. Lulu stared wondrously at Jose’s finger. “Oh yes . . . so that’s what living touch feels like! I’d forgotten . . .”
Jose laughed and Nedjma goggled at her. A few feet away, Anti-Kenneth waited by himself, looking uncomfortable.
“Here, let me help you,” said Nedjma, offering Lulu her arm. Blinking, Lulu smiled and took it, allowing Nejdma to help maneuver her off the metal shelf and onto her feet.
Right as she touched down, the elevator doors started sliding open.
“Shoot!” said Jose, Nedjma, and Lulu at once.
“Rena, move Rena!” Lulu hissed.
Nedjma and Jose darted towards the professor’s unconscious body. Without the support, Dr. Lulu crumpled onto the floor.
“Lulu!” said Nedjma, spinning back around. “Are you––”
“I haven’t worked out in twenty years,” Lulu said, her face half-smooshed against the floor. “Or walked, or moved –– just hide Rena!”
“On it!” said Jose, who’d run behind Rena’s desk. “Summon Rena Saltzman!”
Rena’s body lurched creepily across the ground, landing at his feet just as a newcomer stepped into the room.
“Professor Saltzman!” yelped Harley.
Nedjma’s eyes widened for a split second –– clearly she remembered Rena’s nervous, necromantic assistant.
“Ah yes, hello . . . you,” said Lulu from the floor.
“Nice to meet you,” said Nedjma, straightening her stolen uniform a little. “Professor Saltzman tells me your name is Harley.” (She shot Lulu a meaningful look.) “We were just discussing some, ah, private matters. Maybe you should come back later.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Harley asked fearfully. “I heard the Code Cosmo –– I was trying to catch all the loose specters, but –– what are you doing to Professor Saltzman?”
Nedjma and Lulu exchanged a glance. Before either could think of a good lie, a high-pitched voice from the corner yelled, “Repel!”
For a split second, Nedjma, Lulu, Harley, and even Anti-Kenneth watched the book soar through the air. The next moment, it slammed into Harley’s temple, and they crumpled to the ground.
“The book thing worked for me too!” Jose exclaimed.
“Showoff,” said Nedjma.
As Jose summoned Harley into the lab and closed the door, Nedjma hoisted Lulu onto her feet again. She pulled Lulu’s arm over her shoulder, then asked, “What now?”
Lulu grinned. “Well, Harley’s appearance was inconvenient, but it did give me an idea . . .”
She glanced down at herself. Unlike the outdated clothes Lulu’s ghost had worn, her human body sported a plain white nightgown.
“If you all wouldn’t mind closing your eyes,” she said, “I think I’d look much better in my sister’s outfit, don’t you?”
Across the room, Jose’s eyes lit up. “Stealth mode part two.”
Lulu grinned again. “If Nedjma can pass as castle security, I’m sure I could be Rena Saltzman for a few minutes. Oh, wow ––”
She laughed, the same tinkling bell-chime sound as always.
“I feel so alive!”