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“I have to get out of here,” Mrs. Sharma said. “I have to find her. If she’s still with CPSI…”

Angelina didn’t completely understand what was going on, but Mrs. Sharma seemed to know this Sarah, even care about her. Luckily for Mrs. Sharma, Angelina could help.

“I figured out a way out of this place, I think,” said Angelina.

Mrs. Sharma snapped back into her stern demeanor.

“Somehow, I highly doubt that,” said Mrs. Sharma.

Her tone reminded Angelina of a teacher admonishing her for not doing her homework. Few things were more frustrating than an authority figure speaking to her in that tone, and while Mrs. Sharma didn’t have any real authority over them, she certainly seemed to think she did.

“I did!” said Angelina. “I figured it all out in a notebook. It’s right–hold on…”

She shimmied one shoulder out of a backpack strap and cumbersomely shifted the bag to the front of her body, wincing as it bumped against the wounds on her ribs. She unzipped the bag, and a few grapes she’d picked while she was walking the Sentiero Angelica tumbled to the ground. Mrs. Sharma raised an eyebrow.

Angelina had never understood how some people could open backpacks and reach in, pulling out the exact item they were looking for in one fluid motion.

She stuck her hand in and felt for her notebook, but felt only pencil shavings, a crumpled piece of paper, and a couple grapes. Oops. She’d forgotten the notebook.

“Well, uh, it’s not right here. I must have left it with the snake guy. But Chelsea can tell you! Right C?”

Chelsea nodded.

“She really did figure something out,” said Chelsea. “If anyone can help us get home, it’s Angelina.”

A trace of nervousness flashed across Mrs. Sharma’s stoic face.

“What do you mean you left it with the snake guy? What snake guy?”

“We sort of… I guess fell into this really weird place,” said Chelsea. “I’m honestly not really sure what happened. There was this… snake-man creature who captured us and showed us these illusions that… well, I don’t want to get into it, but suffice to say, they weren’t very nice.”

Chelsea laughed humorlessly, an almost imperceptible shudder passing over her body.

“Zogzhesh,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I’ve encountered him.”

Hadn’t Zogzhesh mentioned meeting a human woman?

“I think he told us about you,” said Angelina. “You’re the other person who smelled like the terrible ones?”

Excuse me?”

“Wow, rude much?” said Jen.

Angelina was confused for a second, then realized how her comment had been misconstrued.

“No, that’s not what I meant!” said Angelina. “I didn’t mean you smell terrible. You smell good, actually! Especially for someone trapped in a place without showers!”

Mrs. Sharma frowned.

“My friend is referring to something Zogzhesh said,” Chelsea clarified.

“Yeah,” said Angelina, “He said he smelled the terrible ones on me, whatever that means. He said it explained why I escaped him, and why I could figure out so much about how this place works. He said he met another woman who was the same way.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I understand what you mean now. I suspect he was mistaken about you, though. You don’t strike me as someone with any exceptional abilities.”

“That’s not true,” said Chelsea. “When we got trapped in Zogzhesh’s… whatever, she pulled us out somehow. And she’s figured out a lot about how this place works. She’s one of the smartest people I know.”

A slight smirk formed on Mrs. Sharma’s face.

“You must not know very many people.” She turned around and resumed walking down the street, throwing a glance over her shoulder at them without breaking her stride. “Come on. We can talk more when we get to my house. We’re wasting time standing around here, and I hate wasting time.”

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