So the girls put their heads together -- all but a few of them that the Sisters drag off to a corner to do some magicking or whatever -- about how to bring her back. First, we get the whole story, as much as we can, from Eliana, that the Weird boy ("what's he like?!" Audrey asks, and Chrys kinda gets on her case about it and she's like, "I was just asking," and laughs in spite of the dire tension) had realized that his Giselle was an illusion and caught up with Eliana as she was stepping through the gate.
So … the trouble is we don't know anything about the Weird world at all, except for what we've seen. And it's pretty unlikely that she's still at the pavilion, because it clears out when we leave -- it does? how do we know? Oh, of course, Beryl would take a last, lingering glance at it before leaving some nights, savoring its melancholy poignancy. We should have guessed. Anyway, there's nowhere to hide anywhere in it.
And … shit. [babble, babble]
Eliana breaks in. "Okay, that's enough, listen, here's what we do. We're going to have to take a couple of nights and gather some more information."
"we don't have a couple of --"
"but what about --"
She pressed on, cutting across the babble of voices "We simply don't know anywhere near enough, and plunging in blindly isn't going to help Giselle at all. So we need more information. How do we keep Norn from finding out what we're up to, though? We play it smooth. Obviously. Each of us just observe a little bit more than usual -- Vanessa, you scope out the shores. You're always on about how pretty they are, anyway; how many paths are there in sight? Any other docks you can see? Is ours the only one with boats?
"Audrey, you look at the paths themselves. Does the creek bank block the view once we're in the Weird world? If not, what's further back than the gate, can you tell? And on the far shore, as we're climbing the stairs, are there any branching paths? Those stairs are illuminated -- are there any other staircases like that you can see? Mara, while we're on the water, keep an eye out for any other clusters of light you can see around the lake. The pavilion's lit up like a beacon, but what about everything else? Does it look like there are any towns or cities nearby? Or just scattered houses?
"Once we're in the pavilion proper, Hannah, I need you to figure out as much as humanly possible about EVERYONE there. No, what I mean is … you've got a heck of an eye, and these Weirds aren't so different as I used to think. The important ones look important, and, you know, dress important. So who's important? Besides Norn? And who looks to be in pretty tight with her -- who's dressed like her, who catches her eye a lot, you know? Is there any friction between the folks on the dais, or are they pretty solid? Who has money, and who's pretending to? Who's only there for the free food?
"Speaking of food, Darlene -- darn it, right. Okay, um, Kendra. Kendra? Listen, could you look at the Weirds table and tell me about their food? Not just what it is -- you know, is it the same as ours? but also … is it anything we could poison if we needed to -- or eat? We need to know what's on their table. And more importantly, how it gets there and who clears it away?" Kendra nods, and Eliana looks relieved.
"Okay. Beryl. We're going to need to find some way of getting things into the Weird world and keeping them there. Weapons, I mean. I believe Chrys will have a few toys she'd like to take?" Chrys nodded. "I need to know where we could stash them -- along the paths on both sides of the lake, and at the pavilion, especially. Find me some hiding places.
"And finally, Chrys. You know this's going to be mostly on you, because the rest of us are just guessing about what to look for. So you just follow your nose and we'll try to stay out of your way?"
Chrys was already grinning. "Fair enough." She'd already done most of the scoping out that they were talking about -- but there wasn't any harm in a second (or fifth) pair of eyes on the same problem. It might even be helpful.
"And you? What are you gonna …?" someone asked.
"Since I'm the one Giselle's boy talked to, that's what I'll keep with. We need to know everything he can tell us -- where she might be, how to get there, how to get back, what's likely to be in the way, how we can avoid attracting Norn's attention …" she paused, thinking. "There is one thing I'm worried about."
"Only one?" Mara murmured. "Your worry-o-meter must be broken."
Eliana almost laughed, and even did grin, lopsidedly. "What about the magical pull, the way we can't actually go anywhere but forward, can't actually stop for any length of time on the paths, all that? None of the rest will matter if we can't get out of the pavilion."
The girls exchanged looks, not speaking. "Well, just one more thing to find out, I guess. I'll ask him. Would somebody please ask the Sisters?"
Vanessa said she would. "Thanks. Okay. Everyone clear?"
Everyone nodded; most also shrugged. "Then let's … get ready for bed."
So they do. And they fall, fitfully, anxiously, to sleep. They rise in the night and dress in tense silence. Chrys is centered and calm; most of the others seem jittery. Anxious. Well, she won't be too hard on them. They were all right, really. She'd gotten into the habit of wearing a knife under whatever getup they were supposed to be wearing; as she mechanically strapped it on she wondered about taking anything extra. Decided against it -- tonight was for observing. She didn't want to have to keep track of any more than she had to.
They hurry to the shore, and as they reach it there's a phantom Giselle among them. And they all pretend not to notice, keeping the pattern of fanning out to the boats the same as all the previous nights. Eliana's one of the first to the shore, and -- luckily? by design? -- the phantom Giselle's Weird boy has maneuvered up beside her. Eliana's and Giselle's Weird boys (Kigh, Chrys finds out later; what a ridiculous name) exchange glances, and E's boy curls his lip and keeps fiddling with the rope a while.
Eliana and Giselle's Weird boy talk, low and quickly, as the phantom Giselle gets in the boat. They keep talking all the way across the lake -- and Chrys observes the way that E's boy, with a look of vague distaste, pretends not to notice that, either. Chrys has a wonder about it, and checks out the other Weirds one by one … and they all have a similar, if not the same, expression. Boredom. Distance. Slight -- only slight -- resentment. She thought about it. It was about the way she probably looked when she got to the school, before she started hanging out with Audrey and Darlene. Bored resignation to a bearable, if unpleasant, experience. At the beginning, they had seemed to be enjoying themselves -- were they becoming irritated and intolerant of the enchantment by now? Were all of them? Or just the uninvolved ones? What was going on really?
As they dock, the other boys hold the boats for the Real girls, but none help them out. Kigh starts to reach toward phantom Giselle and checks himself. They move toward the stairway as usual, Weird boys and Real girls walking out of step. Chrys tries to lag behind, but the beefy, light-on-his-feet Weird of Beryl's she'd observed before kept keeping himself back of the line. And the magic seemed to push more on her when he glanced her way. She filed that away for later, too.
Over the next couple of nights, they experiment and consult. And discover:
a) Germain, Norn's inside man, is holding the reins of the nightly practical magic. When he sees -- or feels -- any of the girls (or other Weird boys, as Kigh discovers) moving outside the bounds, he tugs them back in. (He's Beryl's partner, and isn't a very good one for her. She's in love with dancing, and he thinks it's lame and pointless. So he's perfunctory and inattentive, and it's only because of her self-absorption that she doesn't mind. Or really notice much.)
b) During the musicians' break, Germain consults briefly with Norn most evenings, and also hears the reports of the roaming guards. The guards are a new development.
c) Along the path there are a great many lovely hiding places, and it seems that the path is not checked between nights, so they're able to stash a few of the magic-proof weapons along both their own side of the lake and the pavilion side.
d) There are more guards on campus -- even more than around the pavilion, actually -- and there's been a drastic surge in the amount of "buzz off" magics around Norn's building. It's possible -- even likely -- that that's where Giselle really is. Once Kigh was pretty sure he saw someone taking food to the side door, but a guard passed by around then and he had to bugger off.
So they come up with the battle plan. They need:
a) time -- enough time to get to Giselle, release her, and get her back. How much time is the question -- it's only about a ten minute walk from the gate to the school, so if the Weird campus is the same … but that doesn't account for any guards. "Chrys?" "My pleasure."
b) maneuverability -- either stretch them past their elasticity, or slip the rescue party out of them altogether … maybe Chrys's and Audrey's love/use interests can be of some use here? More characters? what are you, insane? but it would be kind of awesome to pass them off that way
c) distraction -- something needs to occupy Norn's attention (and Germain's) long enough … so the girls who will go on to the pavilion will need to, I don't know, set it on fire or something. Lucienne will go with that group, since the Sisters can kinda-sorta talk with her.