23. Severance

The Diosec was making weapons powered by magic.

“It’s an abomination,” I said, a few days after we had opened the box.

“Mmm,” Candle replied. She was staring at the ground as we walked, lost somewhere deep in her thoughts.

We were on another excursion. Fogwillow had appeared in my bedroom early that morning, rustling me out of sleep. She stood over me with a vague smile on her face and announced that today we were getting out of Blush. Finding some fresh air.

For a moment, I thought she knew something, that Candle had told her about Plum and the Diosec, or that she had guessed. Fogwillow had a skill for knowing when I was hiding things. Or maybe I was simply unskilled at hiding them.

But no. She just wanted to get me out of the bustle of the city, same as always. She was a lot like Candle’s parents in that way, always wanting to take us out into nature. Claiming it would do well to get away for a time. And yet, her reasoning was very different from Len and Martha’s.

“I don’t think I need a nature walk,” I had said once when I was much younger. “I hate nature.”

“This has nothing to do with nature,” Fogwillow had replied. “Trees or skyscrapers, it’s all the same to me. This is about people, Nova. They’re everywhere in the city. People fill up your mind and make it buzz. Their absence empties you.”

So that morning, a few days after discovering the Diosec’s weapon, Fogwillow led me downstairs, nodding politely to Gruffin as we left the investiture. He scowled back at her. We joined Candle and her parents at the beginning of a trail leading out of town, into the forest.

But not even getting away from the constant press of people could calm my anger over the weapon.

“An abomination,” I said again, muttering.

Len, Martha, and Fogwillow were walking up ahead. Candle and I had hung back, out of earshot, so we could talk.

“Magic is connection,” I said, pushing a drooping branch out of the way. “Magic bonds people, bonds the Ferren. That’s the entire point! A weapon goes against everything that the Crystic is.”

“What do you mean?” Candle said quietly.

“A weapon severs!” I expected Candle to agree with me, but she stayed silent, her chin tucked toward her chest, frowning. So we walked a little ways through the blushing trees without speaking. I tried again. “It seems like something of the Ryvkk.”

Candle flinched.

“What?” I said, more forcefully than I intended. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nova,” she said, her voice light and careful. “I don’t disagree that it’s bad that the Diosec has these. It’s very bad. But I think you’re taking it a little too far. You can’t stop the advance of technology.” She grimaced, and shot me a hurried glance.

“Can’t stop the advance of technology?” I said in disbelief. “Candle this isn’t some new flying machine or shiny gadget. This is used to kill.”

“Magic has been used to kill or otherwise incapacitate before. Fragments of ruins from the Lorn show evidence of great wars, fought with wizards at the forefront.”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“You’ve heard your parents talk about their theories. Those wizards were probably repelling the forces of evil. It’s a different world.”

Candle raised her eyebrows and threw me a look. “You don’t think there’s evil in the world today?”

“You’re the one who’s always saying we’ve modernized morality.” I kept my voice to a whisper, but I was growing increasingly frantic. “You’re always telling me that things aren’t so black and white as they are in stories, where the Ferren is split into good magic and bad magic.”

“So you don’t thing there’s evil we need to address at all, then?”

“No, I—” I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. How could she not see how dangerous this was? Nobody had ever weaponized prisms before. It simply wasn’t done. If something deadly needed to be done with magic, then a trained wizard would do it. “There are obviously bad things in the Ferren. But harnessing prisms to kill others with a force that’s supposed to connect? It doesn’t work like that. We’re not going to shoot the Specter of Anon-Golish to death.”

“But if you magic him away, that’s perfectly fine. Go on, Nova. Be the hero. Keep your magic out of the hands of us normal people who don’t deserve it. You’re talking just like everybody else.”

She stormed on ahead, following the rest of the party up a slope. I stood back in the middle of the path, stung. Eventually, I hurried up after them.

We crested the top of a high hill, a good ways outside the city.

“Would you look at that?” Len said as I caught up, breathing heavily. He had his eyes pressed into his binoculars, a goofy smile on his face. “I’ve seen this sight a hundred times and it never gets old.”

“Well, technically its several thousand years old, Len,” Martha said. Len chuckled, even though they’d made that joke many times before.

From the top of the hill, we could see the cebelis forest spread out before us, and in the distance tall gray towers, broken and strange, unfurled through the foliage like crumbled monuments, frozen in the sun-struck morning. The sixteener ruins. Len and Martha’s life work. A solemn memory of a vanished history.

“Like the hand of the Lorn, reaching out to us,” Len said. That, too, I had heard him say many times before.

Candle was rolling her eyes.

We dipped back down the hill, into the forest, heading in the direction of the ruins. I tried slowing my pace a few times, hoping Candle would follow, but she stayed with the group, eyes planted firmly ahead. Finally, I touched her arm, but withdrew my hand as quickly as I could. She looked down at where I had touched her, then up at me. She sighed.

Fogwillow eyed us as we fell back.

“I’m sorry,” I said, once we were out of earshot again. “You’re right. Sometimes I don’t think about what things look like from your point of view. I’m always told wizards were given magic to protect it, to protect the will of Eoea and protect the Ferren.”

“I know,” Candle said. “But that’s a stupid belief, and old-fashioned. You don’t get to justify your privilege and call it good.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Either way,” Candle said, “you’ve now seen what the Diosec is doing. Have you come around, yet? Are you going to tell anyone?”

I hesitated.

“Nova!” Candle said with frustration.

“I talked to airbird sevens again,” I said.

Her eyes went wide and she turned to me. “When?”

“That’s what I was doing. When you came up to my room the other day. I had just finished talking to him.”

“Or her, but okay.” She shook her head and turned away. “Nova, you are hopeless. Did you at least learn anything?”

“I think I did. I think… ” I drew in a shaky breath. I’d had my suspicions for a while, but this was the first time I would be verbalizing them, and somehow that seemed to make them real. I could always pretend, before, that I didn’t really suspect anything. That I didn’t really have hope. After the next few words, that wouldn’t be true any more. My life would be different. “Candle, I think he’s my dad.”

And as I said it I was surprised to find that I really did believe it.

Candle said nothing. She didn’t look at me, she didn’t gasp, she didn’t laugh. She just kept walking. Finally, she said, softly:

“First you think you’re the Answer to Prophecy. Next you think your long lost father is contacting you through the Crystic. Rods, Nova. If I didn’t know you better I’d say you were delusional.”

“He knows the poem Fogwillow is always quoting to me. Fogwillow only knows it because it was pinned to my blanket when they found me at the scratshot home.”

“Maybe airbird sevens is friends with Fogwillow. Maybe he learned it from her.”

“He says he doesn’t know Fogwillow. He said he’s made some bad life choices.”

“Everyone’s made bad life choices, Nova.”

“As bad as giving up your son?”

“Not everyone would see that as a bad choice.” Then she flinched, and looked at me. “I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

I bit my lip, and a tender spot opened soft and sore in the little divot below my ribs. “So now you know why I was obsessed with him, and why I’m afraid that… that it will all just… ”

“That it will all just go away?”

I nodded. Then I set my jaw and steeled myself, letting the tender spot harden.

“I’ll tell Fogwillow,” I said. “Tonight. She’ll know what to do.”

“I think that’s a good choice, Nova.”

“I know. Can I… can I be alone for a minute?”

Without a word, she walked on ahead.

I lingered in the bright blooms of the cebelis trees, their weeping boughs hanging low over the path. The rest of the party disappeared in the white trunks up ahead, and I stuck my hands in my pockets, closing my eyes and focusing on taking a deep breath to sweep away the crumbling pieces that were gathering inside me.

If airbird sevens didn’t want to tell me who he was than he probably had a very good reason. And if he really was my dad, then someday he would crack. Someday he would tell me. I was sure of it.

“Having a hard day?” came a voice.

My eyes snapped open.

Plum was standing before me, his broad jaw thrust up and smiling. Surrounding me on the path were four Diosec agents in their mustard yellow uniforms, their caps pulled low. They had been so quiet. I hadn’t heard them sneak up at all.

“I always thought,” Plum said, “that the best remedy for a hard day was to go to sleep early, and wake up with a fresh perspective. Good night, Nova Scratshot.”

Before I could call out, something soft and tangy was pressed to my mouth and nose, and then I knew no more.