Dean Enislen sat me down across from her. We were in her office, which overlooked the equatorial room, where the bright telescope caught the morning sun.
“Nova,” the dean said, giving me a sad smile. Her lipstick perfect and red. Her auburn hair slicked and shiny. She looked at me from underneath long, pixie-ish lashes and everything was so perfect and so tragic and so wonderful.
“Nova,” she said again. “What are we going to do with you?”
“Expel me?” I said.
Dean Enislen laughed. “We can hardly expel our only student. Our metrics would plummet.”
We were sitting in comfortable chairs near the doors that led out onto the balcony. Across the room, at the dean’s desk, Marewill was writing quietly on his clipboard, his eyes drawn and tired.
“Obviously,” Dean Enislen continued, “you know that I know that you were in the room when I spoke with Fogwillow. And you know that I know that Fogwillow knew that you were in the room. It’s such a messy situation. But I don’t think you care, do you? Otherwise you wouldn’t have written about it in your ticker.”
I said nothing.
“Do you understand what I meant when I was talking about reshaping you? It’s nothing against you personally. I like you, Nova, but everyone must grow and change. Our methods are just more guided.”
Again, I said nothing.
“You know, it really is interesting, reading about your past. I feel like I’m getting to know you. Don’t you, Marewill?”
“What?” Marewill said from across the room. “Oh, yes, I suppose so.” He gave me a hurried glance, then looked down at his clipboard again.
Dean Enislen stared at me a moment, tapping her finger against her knee. Then she tried yet another tack.
“Tell me about the title.”
“Go Forth?” I said.
“Yes. What do those words mean to you?”
Dean Enislen’s smile grew wider and tighter.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking about what you wrote about Fogwillow. About what she said to you when she left. She’s right, you know. You do need to find a reason why you want to be the Answer.”
“I don’t, though.”
“But you are. And so… we’ve planned a little excursion—sort of like those ones with Len and Martha Candle that you’ve written about. It will take a few days of hard travel, but when we get there, I think you’ll find… mmm, what phrase should I use? New purpose.”
Dean Enislen sat happily across from me as if expecting to receive a shower of thanks at being told I was taking a field trip. All I could focus on, however, was the sound of Candle’s parent’s names tumbling out of her mouth, and how uncomfortable it made me feel. It felt like a warping of worlds. Maybe I did need to be careful what I wrote.
“Well,” Dean Enislen said, sitting back. “Off you go. I believe the Wizard Ketchling is waiting for you. He’s eager to start today’s history lesson.”
As if I needed another hour of cramming facts about the small amount of history that we knew. Ketchling was a thin, elderly wizard, hook-backed like a question mark, and bald. Very bald. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think he even has eyebrows. He spits when he talks and I haven’t written much about his lessons because they are utterly uninteresting. Long and dry. Other than the spit, of course.
“Is that it?” I asked Dean Enislen. “I’m not in trouble?”
“Nova, why would we punish you for telling the truth?”
I pressed my lips together and stared at Dean Enislen, trying to find the catch. There had to be more. Had to be something she wasn’t telling me. “And Fogwillow?” I said. “Will she still be able to visit me? Even though she tricked you?”
“Of course she will. We want you to be honest in your writing, Nova. We care about you. It’s very important to us that we share no secrets, and so we will never punish you for anything you write in there. Reprimand, perhaps, but no, never punish. Isn’t that right, Marewill?”
Marewill looked up wearily from his clipboard again and ran a hand through his hair. It stuck up in wisps.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said. “We care about you, Nova.”
Somehow, when he said it, it sounded even worse.