Valorie had never been out so late by herself before. It was chilly, and she pulled her fleece around her tightly to keep out the cold. The cold numbed her limbs as she held them tightly to herself. She fought down yawn after yawn.
The streets leading to the canal were lit only by a series of fluorescent streetlamps. They made everything seem a glowing orange. She watched nervously as a man walked past her. He stopped a few feet in front of her, and she started to walk around him.
‘Excuse me,’ he said.
Valorie turned round. ‘Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas,’ she said hurriedly. This was a trick she often employed when a stranger tried to talk to her.
To her surprise, the stranger answered, ‘Ah, ouais. Parlez-vous anglais?’
Valorie realised she had to admit her mistake. ‘Yes,’ she said, and walked over to him.
‘Sorry about that,’ she said as she joined him. ‘I thought you were French, you know, the accent.’
‘I am,’ the man said. He wore a long blue cloak and had masses of white hair. ‘But I speak English too. Can you pick up this coin?’
Valorie looked down, where the old man was pointing. At his feet was a copper coin. Hiding her confusion, she picked it up.
‘Thank you,’ the man said. ‘Normally I would pick it up, but I dislike touching metals. I am sorry to bother you, but…’
‘Not at all,’ Valorie said. She pocketed the coin. She was still quite embarrassed at being found out a few moments ago.
‘Maybe you put in it a money box,’ the man said, smiling at her. He turned and walked away.
Valorie kept walking, just behind the man. He turned round again.
‘Where are you going at this time?’ he asked.
Valorie froze. ‘I’m, er, walking to the Common… I’ve got to meet someone there.’
The man beamed at her. ‘I am going there too,’ he said. ‘My name is Christophe, what is your name?’
‘Valorie.’ She sped up and began to walk alongside Christophe.
‘I have come to England,’ he told her,’ because I read on your website that there is a terrible Wizard trying to kill people, and my family said, “Why don’t you go and help, you’re very good at fighting”. So I make my way to England.’
‘I see,’ Valorie said, hands in pockets. ‘You speak very good English.’
‘Thank you. I have been studying English for eight years.’
‘Eight years, wow. I’ve only been doing French since I was about ten.’
‘Can I ask why you say that “You do not understand me”?’
Valorie swallowed, watched her feet as they moved under her. Left, right, left, right.
‘I don’t like talking to strangers. Well, my mum, you know, tells me not to. And I thought you were French and didn’t know a lot of English, so… sorry, I just got confused I guess.’
‘It’s no problem. You know, there are a lot of strangers where we are going.’
This was true. Valorie said nothing.
‘Are you going to fight Adam Quinn too?’ Christophe asked her. ‘You look very young. What can you do?’
‘Er… I can teleport, and I can do etheric projection. You?’
‘Oh, er… I can, er…’ he mumbled to himself, searching for the phrase. ‘Controller the… weather?’
‘You can control the weather? Like rain, clouds…’
‘Yes, exactly. I thought I could make a storm come up, so he can’t see what he is doing.’
Valorie nodded. ‘I can see the Common,’ she said, pointing it out to Christophe. ‘We’re almost there.’
One hundred and seven people didn’t look very much at all, from Valorie’s view of the field. She could make out a single clump of people gathered around a tree. As she came closer, she could hear their voices. She saw some Wizards practising their spells, some Wizards talking to their families, some Wizards keeping a look out for anything out of the ordinary.
‘I can see my cousin,’ Christophe said, waving. ‘She came here yesterday.’
Most of the Wizards assembled were ordinary enough, but Valorie could also see some very unusually dressed people. One man wore a floor-length black cloak decorated with thousands of gold sequins. One woman wore a skin-tight red suit and a large feathered hat.
Valorie wandered into the crowd, trying to find Charley, but it was difficult to see past these people. She wondered if she should start introducing herself, or what.