Dr. Lulu is back, and things get…complicated. Kacie feels icky about this episode, guys. But Luna agrees, we had to do it to ’em.
“Lulu!” Nedjma exclaimed.
Sure enough, Dr. Lulu Saltsman now stood beside her. The stuffy woman seemed to have materialized out of thin air, dressed in a chic new pantsuit and labcoat. Her hairstyle had changed – modernized, to fit the times.
One look at the crumbling, rotting, purply room, and fire filled Lulu’s face.
“Nedjma. Why . . . in science’s name . . . are you and Jose in the miasma right now?”
All Nedjma’s joy flipped instantly to sheepishness. “Aaah . . . isn’t that what you wanted?”
“NO!” Lulu’s eyes flashed. “I convinced Rena to give you an out! You were supposed to go home! Be safe! Didn’t you hear my warning?”
“Yeah, live a good life and stuff – but we couldn’t just let you fight Rena and the specters alone, right?”
“Wrong! You most certainly –” Lulu cut off, her eyes popping open. “Jose is injured.”
Tensely, she swooped over Kenneth’s arms, where Jose still laid, unconscious. “He’s been poisoned by the miasma, I sense it –”
“Don’t touch him!” Kenneth snapped suddenly. Up until now, he’d been frozen, staring at the doctor in horrified revulsion.
Dr. Lulu blinked. Then she nodded. “You got the specter out. Well done.”
She went back to fussing over Jose’s bloody HCP suit. Glaring at her, Kenneth shifted Jose away. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
“Not at present,” Lulu huffed impatiently. “I didn’t put the specter inside you, my sister did.”
Kenneth digested this. “You . . . don’t . . . REMEMBER me?”
“I remember Nedjma introducing us,” Lulu said. “Of course, I recognized you immediately as a specter, so I wasn’t exactly friendly –”
“KENNETH SANDERS!” Kenneth bellowed. “You used my parents for experiments!”
“Did I?” Lulu frowned, considering this. “Oh god . . . the Sanders couple. I forgot.”
“Well, they wanted their bodies donated to science!”
‘They were STILL ALIVE!”
“At the rate they were going –” Lulu pinched the bridge of her nose. “I see you and Nedjma inherited the same temper. Nevermind. There isn’t time. I’m sorry.”
Kenneth made a sound of utter disbelief, like, “EEGH!”
“You’re out of your body,” Nedjma realized, poking Dr. Lulu. “But you’re, like, kinda solid too. How are you doing that?”
“The miasma is infested with death magic. It’s actually fascinating – no, no, no time. If Rena finds my dead body . . .”
“Got it,” said Nedjma. She glanced at Kenneth – red-faced and fuming – and Jose – sickly and grey. “Let’s go to another room.”
“Stay away from her, Nedj,” said Kenneth seriously. “Do not go anywhere alone with her.”
Nedjma shot him a flat frown. She marched towards a second room. With one last worried look at Jose, Lulu followed.
“Nedj!” Kenneth raised his voice. “Come back here this instant!”
“Take a chill pill,” said Nedjma. “Who are you, dad?”
“I might as well be!” Kenneth yelled.
Nedjma’s mouth popped open. She blinked.
“I basically raised you!” said Kenneth, taking advantage of the awkward silence. “I don’t ask for much, Nedj, but just . . . just listen to me for once. This woman dissected our parents.”
Nedjma looked between her brother and Doctor Saltsman. Kenneth looked pained, even desperate; Lulu just looked sad.
“Watch Jose,” Nedjma muttered. “Come on, Lulu.”
She walked into the next room, leaving Kenneth staring miserably after her.
Inside was a study, cramped with motheaten books and an old record player. Grumpily, Nedjma shut the door after Lulu.
“Sorry,” she grunted. “He’s annoying.”
“He’s right.” Lulu frowned, distracted. “Jose’s injuries are serious. He needs a hospital. Immediately.”
“I know.” Groaning, Nedjma hugged her own torso. “I feel his life force getting weaker. But he’s gonna be okay.”
“He could make a full recovery on Demonwall, our hospitals are the best,” said Lulu. “Marranon, there’s a chance, but – ugh, Nedjma! Why didn’t you just go home?”
“Because you’re crazy to the max if you think you can do this alone,” Nedjma retorted. “Remember what you told me before? There won’t be a home for us, or a college, or –”
“I have a plan,” said Lulu. “It will work.”
“Of course you do. Care to share?”
Lulu sighed. She bent down, so her and Nedjma’s eyes were level. “Trust me. I haven’t earned it, but please. I will do this, and do it alone. And you will become the Allied Peaks’ most famous goth poet.”
Nedjma’s lip twitched. “You remembered.”
Jerkily, Nedjma snapped her face away. An emotion had rocked the teenage girl, one she was trying – and failing – to hide.
“Hang on,” she muttered.
She sat down at a crumbling wooden desk in the corner, leaned against the wall, and closed her eyes. Moments later, a second Nedjma – silvery, glowing, and free of her HCP suit – stepped out from the body.
“Wonderful work,” said Lulu, her face lighting up. “Effortless!”
“I’m practicing when I can,” said Nedjma, grinning in spite of herself. “It’d be better if my teacher stuck around.”
At once, the two frowned.
“You have to go back soon,” said Nedjma.
“Yes,” said Lulu.
Nedjma looked ready to fight, but thought better of it. Instead, she said, “Teach me something.”
“Before you go, teach me how to use the miasma. I feel . . . crazy powerful here.”
Lulu smiled. “Well, alright. Can you do the twist?”
“The – excuse me, what?”
“Really?” Lulu pouted a little. “It’s a dance. It’s quite groovy, too. It was all the rage back in my day – stop laughing!”
“Sorry!” With a little difficulty, Nedjma stopped snickering. “So I’m gonna do a ghost dance?”
“Actually, you’re going to manipulate the miasma,” said Lulu. “And, believe it or not, dancing helps. Watch.”
Gracefully, she wound her arms through the air. The room’s purple gas lifted into motion, swirling around her body as she pirhouetted on her toes.
Suddenly, Lulu tensed up. The purple gas coagulated into floating black goop.
“Necromantic residue?” Nedjma said in awe.
“Poisonous necromantic residue,” Lulu corrected. “A deadly weapon against specters and living creatures.”
Nedjma’s eyes sparkled, before red patches appeared on her cheeks. “I can’t dance, though.”
“Oh, please.” Lulu tilted her head, then smiled. Transforming the necromantic residue back to miasma smog, she approached the outdated record player. Her hand ghosted inside, and with a few unpleasant scratching noises, it whirred to life.
Soft, slow music filled the air.
“Hm.” Lulu pursed her lips. “Not exactly a foot-tapper.”
Nedjma’s eyebrows knitted. The red patches grew. “Uhm.” She thrust out her hand, staring angrily at the floor. “Teach me?”
“Oh.” Lulu blinked. “Um. Well. I suppose.”
Hesitantly, the doctor took Nedjma’s hand. Still looking daggers at the carpet, Nedjma laid her other hand on Lulu’s shoulder. The two started swaying awkwardly.
“So . . . do you feel how, as you move, the miasma moves with you?” said Lulu.
“Sorta,” said Nedjma. She closed her eyes, concentrating. “Yeah, actually . . . a little bit . . .”
“Good. Now, if you were to, say, spin . . .”
Lulu led Nedjma in a twirl.
“. . . it follows.”
A silence fell between them, as Lulu waited for a response. They kept swaying.
“So, you draw it in with swirly movement, like dancing,” Nedmja deduced slowly, “and get all tense and strong to make it a weapon.”
“Precisely!” Lulu beamed. “Nedjma, very good. You hardly need me at all!”
More swaying. Another silence. This time, Nedjma’s expression darkened.
“You didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I couldn’t,” Lulu reminded her, gently now.
Nedjma glared into the air, pressing her lips together.
“Tell me your plan,” she grumbled through her teeth.
“All the necromancers in the world, and I find the stubbornest,” Lulu muttered to herself. “Let’s just say, there is a way to put all Rena’s – my – abominations to rest. To restore life and death to its natural cycle. In all honesty, minus the part where we intended on breaking into my old laboratory, the plan is the same. Only it uses my necromancy . . . not yours . . .”
As a third silence drifted over them, Lulu’s focus wandered. She seemed tense again, distracted.
Then, ever-so quietly, Nedjma mumbled a sentence that caught her attention.
“I don’t want you to go.”
Lulu shook her head like someone had splashed her with cold water. “I beg your pardon?”
A furious blush blistered on Nedjma’s cheeks. “I . . . don’t want you to go.”
For a long minute, Lulu could do nothing but blink and digest this. Then she frowned irritably.
“This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” she muttered.
Clearly, for Nedjma, this wasn’t a reassuring response. But rather than hide behind the usual icy mask, she tightened her ghostly grip on Lulu. For the first time since the doctor’s appearance, Nedjma looked deep into her eyes.
“Once we fix this, and everything’s safe, I want you to come to Demonwall with me and Jose.”
She took a deep breath, not breaking her gaze.
“Please stay with me.”
Wide-eyed, Lulu stared at Nedjma. “I – why –?”
The door to the room flew open with a bang!
“This is taking way too long!” Kenneth complained, barging inside. One look at Nedjma and Lulu, their arms half-wrapped around each other, and his face blanked.
“You . . . absolute . . . SCUMBAG!”
“Oh, not this again,” Lulu muttered.
“BACK UP! GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY SISTER, YOU – YOU –”
Kenneth strangled the air, clearly struggling to think up a horrendous enough insult.
“This is a new low, even for you,” Kenneth spat at Dr. Saltsman. “I thought it was weird how Nedjma was acting, but this – this – she’s just a kid!”
“I am not!” Nedjma protested.
“This really isn’t what it looks like,” Lulu insisted.
“Oh, it is,” said Kenneth venemously. “I get it – Nedjma’s conflating this hero-worship crap into a stupid crush, and you’re letting her.”
“Nedjma can speak for herself,” Nedjma snapped. But her burning blush and her surly, embarrassed expression gave her away.
For once, Lulu ignored Nedjma, and answered Kenneth. “She is?”
“She’s a teenager, of course she is!”
Lulu looked troubled. “I hadn’t thought . . .”
“Obviously,” Kenneth spat. “What is Nedjma to you?”
“Stop it,” Nedjma mumbled.
Again, Lulu ignored her student. She considered the question for a long minute, too long for comfort.
“A village girl from Demonwall Mountain,” she said at last, “who was brave and trusting enough to risk her life against an unknown threat.”
“We’re friends,” said Nedjma in a suddenly shaky voice. “You’re my teacher. My . . .”
“Nedjma, we met three days ago.”
“Yeah, but – but a lot’s been happening. It feels like –”
“It isn’t,” said Dr. Saltsman bluntly.
Nedjma took a step back.
“Whatever you think you feel, it’s all just a product of your stress. Adrenaline, you know.” Dr. Lulu smiled. “It’s a chemical reaction. Nothing to worry about.”
Nedjma seemed to shrink. She didn’t answer, just stared up at Lulu with hurt etched across her features.
Lulu released a long breath, and her eyes turned cold.
“You misunderstood my reason for appearing here today. I couldn’t say this up on Marannon, but this will be our last meeting. Ever.”
“You’re breaking up with me?” Nedjma whispered.
Lulu jumped a little. “Nedjma! That – that’s highly inappropriate –”
“Just answer me.”
“I – yes, then,” said Dr. Saltsman, regaining her composure. “If that’s how you want to look at it.”
Nedjma’s voice came out flat and cold, and Lulu copied it.
“You’re no longer an asset to me. I never want to see you again.”
Nedjma stared at the spot where her ex-teacher had stood. A minute passed between her and Kenneth in total silence.
“Nedj,” he finally murmured, shaking his head.
“Shut up,” she said. “I don’t wanna hear about it. Also, Lulu was right – we are running out of time.”
Kenneth rose an eyebrow at his sister. With blazing determination, Nedjma looked back.
“Something bad’s gonna go down at the mouth of Demonwall Mountain. Soon. And we have to beat Lulu there.”
“Dr. Saltsman? Dr. Saltsman? Dr. Saltsman?”
“One second, one second . . .”
Dr. Lulu had just slammed back into her body. Normally, her re-entries were a bit more graceful, but today . . .
She swiped a tear from her cheek.
Groaning, she stopped beside a mirror to fix her newly-trimmed hair, then pulled open the door to her bedroom. It was a room she’d never seen before, maintained for years by Rena.
Outside, someone in business attire and a labcoat stood waiting. Harley.
“Professor Saltsman is ready,” they said.
“Excellent, so am I.”
As Lulu stepped out of the room, Harley placed a hand on her arm. The young lab assistant’s nervous energy subsided a moment, making way for something deeper and darker.
“Professor Saltsman has worked too long for this,” they murmured. “Do not mess it up.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Lulu.
“You were lucky enough to get your body back once. It won’t happen twice.”
Dr. Lulu rose her eyebrows at the young assistant. “Noted.”
They walked through another of Marranon Castle’s secret hallways until they reached the basement. Then deeper still . . . deeper underground . . . until they came to a second basement, one so secret it had been wiped from the building’s official schematics. The ghost of a place.
Rena was there, waiting beside a dimly glowing door.
“Remember this, Lulu?” she said eagerly. “It’s just like your Demonwall entrance!”
“A perfect replica,” Lulu agreed.
Electric humming filled the silence as Lulu and Harley moved in beside Rena. The professor pushed a button, and with a soft hiss, the glowing door slid open.
The three stepped into the elevator. The ding of a button, and they descended into the mountain’s depths.