The next morning, we all left Emmalee's house to go to mine. There, we would gather supplies and begin planning.
Externally, my face was set like stone. However in my mind I was trying to contain my elation at actually having pulled off my prankish scheme. Aislinn would be safe...and she wouldn't be happy about it! I tried hard not to smirk, my expression contorting into a strange sort of grimace. Iris was practicing swinging her new sword (I had no idea where she'd gotten it) and looked up just in time to see me do that.
Her face instantly became expressionless. I struggled to manage the same thing and succeeded. We stared at each other with blank expressions. The others paused in their planning, then chose to ignore us. For several long seconds, Iris and I had a silent, impromptu Don't Smile contest.
"Would you like a Pringle, Iris?" I eventually asked in a low, tranquil voice. Conveniently, there was a tube of them sitting on the mantle of the fireplace, in between my rock collection and my lineup of ornamental chess pieces. I reached over, grabbed it, and held it out in front of her.
"Yes...thank you," she said in an equally calm voice. She lifted one violet-gloved hand and snatched the tube from me, instantly opening it. In a moment, she'd devoured a fistful Pringles. I stared in astonishment as she began eating the rest of them.
"You...like Pringles?" I asked in an awed voice.
She began to smile--it was a sweet, adorable kind of smile. Or at least, that's how I saw it. She'd smiled like that at the others on our team, and they didn't seem to appreciate it as much. "Yes. Do you?" she asked me.
I smirked. "No, never. But nonetheless, I used to eat them all the time. You see, I stole a bunch from Xonos Darkgrate a while ago, and I still have an immense amount. Would you like some more?"
Iris's innocent expression abruptly turned dark, like a solar eclipse. "I would like some more, yes."
I tilted my head at her, realizing that something about Xonos's name had angered her. I calmly turned around and went into the kitchen, gathering as many Pringle cylinders as I could find. After giving them to Iris, I turned my mind to another important matter. I needed to make more smoke bombs. Surely I would need them in the coming adventure.
I rummaged through my super secret storage closet and found all of my super secret ingredients for smoke bombs. I saw a small shadow at the edge of my vision and turned to see Iris standing there.
"What are you doing?" she asked me, lifting a Pringle chip to her mouth. She had three more containers tucked under her arm, almost hidden by her lavender-scented violet cape. Her wide brown eyes watched my every movement, and I watched every one of hers.
"Making smoke bombs, my dear Iris," I responded.
She squinted suspiciously at me and asked, "You make smoke bombs?"
I nodded. "They happen to be my weapon of choice."
"I like smoke bombs." She smiled again.
I edged out of the storage room, padlocking it behind me. You could never be too careful with super secret stuff, after all.
"Do you want to see how I make smoke bombs?" Maybe I could teach her something. The knowledge of how to make smoke bombs was very useful.
Iris just nodded and followed me into the kitchen, munching Pringles all the while.
I showed her how to combine chromic acid with...the secret ingredients...and then how to mold them into fist-sized spheres.
I decided to ask Iris something that had been bothering me for a while. "Who is Blackspark?"
That same lovely smile spread across Iris's face, though I detected a faint trembling of her lower lip. "Blackspark is Blackspark, nothing more, nothing less. Who might you be?"
Well, I wouldn't get any information about Blackspark from her. At least not yet. "I'm Ariella. Ariella Newheart."
She kept on smiling, clasping her arms behind her back and rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. "And do you have a new heart?"
I suppressed a wince. "I should hope so."
Footsteps approached behind us, and a moment later Nikko came into the room.
"We're about to discuss the final plan, you two," he said, casting a suspicious glance at Iris. She just smiled at him.
"I'm making smoke bombs," I said suddenly.
"Do you know where Ellie is? She's lost," Iris said sweetly to Nikko.
Nikko just glanced back and forth between us for a moment, looking a bit nervous and wary of how this whole conversation was going. He addressed me first. "Um...that's very nice. Ariella, isn't it?"
I tipped my head. "Ariella Newheart. Also known as Arbitrary Ari."
"Miss Ari has a new heart," the little girl interjected. She went up to Nikko and offered him a Pringle, seeming surprised when he did not take it. "I'm sure Ellie misses me. Where is she, Nicky?"
Nikko's face grew red, and he seemed at a loss of what to say. I got the impression that he didn't like the nickname. Nicky was better than Nutty Nikko any day! I tried not to laugh and stopped a smirk that threatened to show. After a long moment, he took a deep breath and spoke through slightly clenched teeth. "No, I have not seen her. I'm very sorry, Iris."
"Who's Ellie?" I spoke up, turning away from my two companions to hide my face. I set the spoke bombs on a shelf next to the kitchen window to dry.
Iris hopped down from her chair to watch me. "My elephant."
"And she's lost?"
"Well, I hope you find her soon." When I turned to look for Nikko, he was already gone. I couldn't hold in my laughter anymore. I snickered quietly at first, and then laughed louder as Iris joined in.
We both came into the front room a few minutes later and joined the rest of the group. After we'd all decided upon a final plan of action, we prepared to leave for the Snowmoors.
I noticed that throughout the whole conversation, Nikko was trying very hard not to frown at Iris or me.
"Is something wrong, Nicky?" Iris asked innocently.
This time I did smirk. So did everyone else.