In Blush, the news of a Diosec cell being taken down by the Shift Patrol seemed to be everywhere. As I helped customers at Gruff Stop, the lightscreen hanging in the corner played the news all day, of interviews with Chief Inspector Rhyme and other shifties I hadn’t even met, and of a revolving door of experts and pundits and journalists all with their own thoughts on what had happened and why and what it meant. They were all saying different things and none of them seemed to know anything for certain beyond the bare facts. That didn’t stop them from theorizing.
Of most interest to me were the rumors that the Diosec had found something in Blush, something that might hold the key to locating the Answer to Prophecy. It was just one of many such rumors, of a thousand shouting voices in the noise of news, but my skin bristled as I rung up people’s purchases and listened to reports that the Advance Academy was mobilizing, flying to Blush to dig up whatever answers might be there to dig up.
It made me sick to my stomach, and I was too scared to ask Fogwillow what she knew, and airbird sevens hadn’t been responding to my messages about it, so there was nothing I could do but sit and worry.
Luckily, Chief Inspector Rhyme, contrary to what he had promised me and Candle in the aftermath of that night, did not release our names to the press. At least he hadn’t yet. He wanted to make sure we were safe, and that we had time to process what had happened, and so Candle and I got by over the next week or so with relatively little attention paid to us.
That was fine by me.
And so it was that, sitting behind the counter at Gruff Stop, collecting money from a man with a curly moustache who didn’t know me from Azlo, I spotted Candle approach through the window leading two bikes by the handlebars, one on either side of her.
“Have a good day,” I said to the mustachioed man, handing him his tribs and watching Candle prop the bikes up against the window. She brushed past the man on her way in.
“What are you doing?” I said.
Candle approached the counter with purpose, her hair blowing out to the sides of her head.
“You said we should go bike-riding the other night,” she said. “And I brushed you off.”
“Where did you get those?” I asked, nodding beyond the window.
“Rented them. From Gear Grind down the street.”
“They look like they’ve been through a mud fight.”
“Do you want to do it or not? Might be fun. Might help you get your mind off… ” She looked around at Azlo, who was stocking the koba crisps nearby. “Off what happened.”
I looked over at the owl clock behind me. “I have to work for another twenty-three minutes. And then… ” I hesitated. The last time I’d ridden a bike I had almost crashed into a skim. Twice.
“What’s the matter?” Candle said, crossing her arms.
“Plum is still out there,” I said.
“We won’t leave the busy streets.”
“Then I’ll crash into something.”
“Broken rods, Nova, you can’t use this as an excuse to go even further into your hole. Plum has probably fled Blush. Chronicles! He probably hopped a cloudweaver out of Trill by now.”
But I could only think of the narylis flower, sitting by itself in that empty room.
And then, something else. I remembered Plum’s words.
Is there anything special about you at all?
“Fine,” I said, throwing up my hands. Candle gave me a smug, self-satisfied look, as if this whole thing hadn’t been my idea to begin with. I wouldn’t let her take credit for this.
Candle flipped through the magazine racks for the next twenty minutes, and then the clock struck seven and we left.
“Bye, Azlo,” I said. “Hope things aren’t too dead tonight.” Azlo rolled her eyes and took her place behind the counter. Gruffin gave me a worried look from his office as we headed for the door.
“If you don’t come back by nightfall, I’m sending Fogwillow after!” he shouted, then took a sip of his elg and turned back toward his desk.
My front wheel wobbled back and forth kind of alarmingly for the first few blocks, and my feet slipped from the pedals a few times.
“You’ve got this,” Candle called from up ahead, where she was going as slowly as she could.
I bit my lip, ignoring the stares from the people passing by around me. My hands were sweaty around the rubber handles.
But, slowly, inch by inch, the feel of biking came back to me, and my speed increased, and my confidence with it, and gradually I caught up to Candle. She grinned as I came alongside her, removing her hands from the handles and crossing her arms.
“Show off,” I muttered.
She laughed, bent back down, and sped up ahead. I hurried to catch up with her.
We flew down the street. The city was a blur of color and noise on either side of us. Pink and white cebelis trees whipped past. Gleaming, steel polished skims in blue and orange, their undercarriages glowing with purple and yellow levitation discs. Prisms winked from every lightscreen, from every telephone booth, from every lighted sign and humming vehicle and rising elevator. Magic coursed through the city in prisms and power lines, connecting it into the neverending crossroads of energy that made up the Crystic.
We passed meat frying in food trolleys and nuts roasting in corner stands. We passed men and women eating out on restaurant patios, where their food steamed beneath giant table umbrellas. We caught snatches of a hundred conversations, of the sound of a hundred laughing children. We passed by Hennen Park, and the enormous tree at its center, where the kids of the morning had been replaced in the evening by older teens, my age, laughing and climbing higher than they ever had been able to before growing up and becoming invincible.
I turned to watch them as I passed, wondering where they had found the confidence.
At one point, riding at Candle’s side, I almost crashed headlong into another bicyclist coming the opposite direction. “Single file!” he shouted as he passed. I maneuvered inelegantly into position behind Candle’s back tire.
The wind whipped past my face.
My feet rotated over each other, again and again and again.
The blood pumped up into my chest, billowing outward to the ends of my fingers and toes. It was warm and it tingled, and I realized that the rush of blood was love. Love of a city. Love of an evening sky. Love of being pushed to do something I had rarely done before, and of spending time with a friend.
We wheeled up to a high hill at the edge of Blush, the Garden of Wings, where the parks department sponsored a sprawling community garden, domed by the hanging branches of the cebelis trees, which grew like a crown about the crest. We hopped off our bikes and turned, looking out over the pale buildings and magenta billowing of Blush. The sun was setting, and the sky mirrored the city below it, ablaze with colors and light.
“Eh,” Candle said, shrugging her shoulders in an unimpressed kind of way. I laughed and swung my bike to the side, knocking it into hers. We stood there for a few moments catching our breath before Candle finally said, “Nova, are you okay?”
“What do you mean?”
“About what happened. About maybe, possibly, being the Answer.”
My jaw tightened. “I don’t want to talk about that right now.”
Nearby, a few people were on their hands and knees, pulling weeds and tending to the flowers, digging with their hands after a day at the office.
I could tell Candle wanted to say more, wanted to press the issue, to tell me I needed to confront the problem, that it wouldn’t just go away, just like the Diosec hadn’t gone away when I ignored it. And she was right. And she didn’t need to tell me again, because I already knew.
“Look,” I said, distracting her from her thoughts.
In the distance, high up in the clouds, a skyrunner rippled through the air, its train cars waving in a long line, serpentine and mechanical, trucking its cargo to some distant part of the Ferren.
“Have you ever ridden one?” Candle said.
“A skyrunner, a cloudweaver, anything?”
“It’s the best feeling in the Ferren. It’s like… it’s like… dreaming. Those are always my favorite parts of any story, you know. The flying scenes. Wizards can’t do it on their own, flying. Maybe in the Lorn. Maybe with the help of some long-forgotten creature. But now… ” She paused, and I turned to look at her. She was still staring straight ahead, and her eyes were shimmering with the sunset, with something hopeful and sad. “I know you have doubts about tech, and seeing what that weapon does, I understand why. But I think that—that up there—” she nodded upwards, “—that’s what people like me have to offer to magic. We can bring you the sky.”
I looked away, and down.
Suddenly, Candle’s tone shifted. “Would you ever leave Blush?” she said in a firmer voice.
“Because I would. I will. Someday. I’ll book a passage through the clouds to some other continent.”
“No,” I said, after a time. “I don’t think I would ever leave. I like it here.”
We stood side by side, staring into the distance, and I’m sure she was thinking the same thing that I was thinking, but could never bring myself to say out loud. What would happen as we got older? What would happen when Candle went off to chase her adventures, and left me, alone again, growing older in my attic above the investiture?