Thanks to the unfortunate, completely accidental, entirely unforeseeable, once-in-a-bajillion-years mishap with the Ray of Frosting, which was clearly a freak accident and not at all something for which Dunstana could conceivably or justifiably be held culpable, the adventures in cake-making have been slightly sidetracked.
With the assistance of her unflappable maid Isla, Amara managed to wash most of the frosting from her face and ears. She had to change outfits, though the other maids had assured her they’d be able to get her old clothes clean. Her hair was another matter entirely. Running afoul of the Ray of Frosting has turned Amara’s hair into a tangled mass of sugary pink clumps and knots.
Now, Dunstana watches as Amara is sat down in a chair by Isla and given an emergency haircut.
“Hold still, Miss Amara,” the maid instructs. “This is very delicate work.”
“Pulling out chunks of my hair is hardly delicate,” Amara protests glumly.
“I’m sorry, Miss Amara. I’m trying to be as gentle as I can,” Isla says. “But the frosting sticks to everything.”
“I’m well aware of that, thank you,” Amara answers. She looks hopefully up at her maid. “But you can salvage this, right? I’d rather not have to be bald.” She shivers at the thought.
“I’ll do my best, Miss Amara,” Isla vows, “First things first, we have to cut out all these frosting globs. Then, I’ll see what I can do about styling it into something nice.”
“I suppose there’s nothing for it,” Amara mutters. “I have complete faith in you.”
Dunstana must have dozed off at some point, because her next memory is Ginger jabbing her in the ribs.
“What was that for?” Dunstana asks indignantly.
Ginger points and Dunstana follows her finger to see Isla putting the finishing touches on Amara’s haircut.
“Well?” Isla asks, holding up a mirror for Amara.
Amara furrows her brow as she studies her reflection. Eventually, she sighs heavily. “Oh, I’ve never looked good with short hair,” she mutters.
“I think it suits you quite well, Miss Amara,” Isla says.
“Well, it will grow back, at least,” Amara says. “I appreciate your help.”
“It’s no trouble, Miss Amara,” Isla says with a smile. Dunstana isn’t sure she actually means it. The Darkstones don’t have any maids, so she could be wrong, but Dunstana is pretty sure maids have to say stuff like that to the people they work for.
“Your hair looks like my hair!” Dunstana exclaims suddenly as she looks at Amara.
From what Dunstana remembers, hair like this is called a bob. Of course, Dunstana doesn’t know who Bob is, or why he’s a haircut, but she does think he looks pretty good as Amara’s haircut.
“Now,” Amara says resolutely setting her face with grim determination. “Let’s finish that cake, shall we?”
Come Ray of Frosting or high water, she is going to bake the very finest cake Realmgard has ever seen.
“Hey Amara, you’re not still mad at me, are you?” Dunstana asks.
“No, Dunstana. I’m not mad at you,” Amara answers, sounding pretty mad for someone who’s not supposed to be mad.
Cresting a hill as she continues through the Valley of Appraisal, Kat sees exactly five things: a tall wall with no obvious way around, a door in the wall, a lever on the left of the door, another lever on the right, and a Goblin in a floppy hat leaning idly against the wall.
The Goblin points with her green finger to just above the door. Kat hadn’t noticed it at first, but she now sees a bucket suspended from the wall from a series of ropes and pulleys.
“That is a bucket of slime,” the Goblin explains. “The lever on the left unlocks the door, and the lever on the right dumps the bucket on you. Which means you should absolutely, positively, absotively not pull the lever on the right.”
“It’s a trap,” Scarlet whispers to Kat. “Don’t listen to her.”
“It is most certainly not a trap!” the Goblin insists, sounding gravely offended by the very suggestion.
Kat hesitates as she studies the two levers. Obviously, there’s some trick waiting for her, she just isn’t sure what it is. Just being told which lever is the right one is way too easy.
Which, she realises to her own bemusement, is exactly what they’d want her to think.
“Uh oh,” she mutters, as she realises she’s thinking in circles.
She takes a step back from the levers and starts considering the situation. On the plus side, she’s got a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. On the other hand, that means there’s as much of a chance of being wrong and getting slimed.
If Annie were here, she’d develop some kind of complex mathematical theorem to determine the right lever. And if Dunstana were here, she’d pull both levers and not care about getting slimed. And if the Admiral were her, he’d just kick down the door to get through.
Maybe she could just get Scarlet to use her magic to blow up the wall. But standing this close to a magical explosion means that Kat would be left tasting Quiet and smelling Plaid for a week.
Besides, Carlotta might consider that cheating the tests.
Kat frowns as she decides that none of the options before her seem very good.
She stares at the lever, then the door, then Scarlet, who is smiling reassuringly, then the Goblin, who is adjusting her floppy hat, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible
Her hat, Kat realises suddenly, the gears of her brain suddenly kicking into motion. She feels giddy at puzzling out the riddle facing her and escaping a potential sliming.
Kat suddenly rounds on the Goblin.
“You didn’t take your hat off!” she declares.
Goblins, as Kat clearly remembers from her practice exams, never lie in the presence of someone for whom they’ve removed their hats.
“Yes, I did,” the Goblin insists, despite the fact that she is clearly still wearing her floppy hat.
“I mean, uh, um,” she desperately continues, resorting to more and more egregious falsehood along the way, “What hat? This isn’t a hat, it’s just my hair! There was never a hat at all! I don’t even know what a hat is! I don’t know what you’re talking about! There’s no such thing as hats!”
She is still, however, very much wearing a hat.
“You’re lying to me,” Kat notes, attempting to use her best Disappointed Mother voice.
“…No?” The Goblin answers.
“I think you are,” Kat insists. “And I think that pulling the right lever will dump the slime on me.
“Yes,” the Goblin admits, sighing heavily and sweeping her hat from her head. “I’m sorry,” the Goblin mutters contritely, glumly hanging her now hatless head. “I never wanted to see you get slimed, but since I am an agent of the Guild Authority of Porthaven, it’s my job to contribute to this test of your intelligence.”
The Goblin puffs out her chest and stands a little taller, or at least as taller as someone as naturally short as a Goblin can manage. “And I happen to take my job very seriously.”
“I believe you,” Kat assures the little green Guild Authority agent.
As Kat pulls the lever, she cannot help but instinctively clamp her eyes shut, tensing up and bracing herself for being beslimed by a horrible, slimy torrent of slime crashing down on her.
She counts to three, but nothing happens. She counts to ten, but nothing happens. She finally cautiously half-opens her eyes and peers up at the slime bucket. She breathes a sigh of relief.
She moves to the door and gives it a tentative push.
The door groans open and she steps through as the Goblin waves and calls after her, “Best of luck with the rest of your exam!”
Passing through the Goblin’s door, Kat is soon staring up at her next obstacle. A very long way up.
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