“They think I’m the Answer to Prophecy.”
The words only seemed partially real. My mind hadn’t accepted them, but my body seemed to understand that something wholly out of its control was happening. I sat with Candle in my attic bedroom, shivering uncontrollably, a writhing mess of nausea slipping through my gut. I sat on my bed with my quilt wrapped over my head, held with clenched fists beneath my chin. My teeth were chattering, and it was only partially from being soaked through by the sea.
Candle was pacing in front of the bed, the night sky bold and black behind her through the slanted window. She had picked up an empty weybisk box and was slowly tearing it in pieces.
“What does the Diosec want with the Answer?” Candle said. “It doesn’t make any sense. Do they want to leverage you?”
“Don’t say you.”
“Leverage with whom? The Assemblage would consider it an act of treason. The Shift Patrol would obliterate the Diosec and the Advance Academy would swoop in to pick you out of the rubble. Do they want to kill you?”
“Candle. Don’t say you.”
“Why would they want to kill the person who’s destined to save the Ferren? Nobody wants to die. Criminals are too self-interested to try to end the world. Do they want to use your power somehow?”
“Candle!” I shouted it this time, and it made her jump and stop in her tracks. “Stop. Saying. You.”
Candle furrowed her brow. “Nova, as improbable as it sounds, I think we need to face the very real possibility that you are the Answer to the long algorithm of time, to the puzzle of salvation, to the redemption of the Crystic, to whatever you want to call it.”
“I don’t want to be the Answer. And I’m not. I’m not.” I realized how petulant I sounded, but I didn’t care.
“The Diosec has singled you out,” Candle said. “They’ve committed vast resources to finding you. A stranger who’s too frightened to reveal their identity contacted you through the Crystic to warn you about Plum, to give you information no one should even have. Strange things are swirling around you, Nova.”
I brought my fists up to either side of my head and squeezed, crumpling my blanket around me, willing my thoughts to still themselves. After Candle and I swam to shore, time had begun to speed up again, but this time it kept speeding up, past its normal pace, faster and faster as we hurried back through the city streets to Gruff Stop. My head was rushing and whistling.
Candle, on the other hand, looked as steady as a statue, dripping on the floor with her arms crossed. Her mishmash of patterns was soaked and dark. Her hair was stringy.
“You’re being stupid, Nova,” she said.
“Then I’m stupid.”
“This could change everything.”
“I don’t want anything to change.”
“You’re happy with where you are? You think you’ll be just fine staying up in this attic, alone, forever? I’m not going to stay in Blush all my life, and when I leave I don’t want to think of you here at your desk doing nothing.”
“If you want to leave someday that’s fine,” I said. “I’m not going to ease your guilt by being something I don’t want to be.”
Candle groaned and held her fists to her forehead. “You are so—!” She sighed and dropped her arms. She stared at me where I was hunched in my quilt, then continued more softly. “I won’t make you go to the Shift Patrol this time. This is your life, and your decision to make. But I think you need to go, Nova. If you don’t, the Diosec is only going to get closer to you, something bad is going to happen, and it will be your fault. You can’t just ignore this and have it go away.”
I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them to my chest. The blanket fell down around my shoulders and I stared, hollow-eyed, at my toes poking out from underneath.
“You think I’m ignoring it?” I said quietly.
“You tell me.”
“I’m not ignoring it. I don’t ignore anything.”
I fell silent, and Candle waited for me to continue.
“I don’t… ” I said eventually. “I don’t switch between thoughts. I can’t. They just pile up from the time I wake to the time I go to sleep. I think most people think about one thing and then a second thing and then a third thing. But I have to think about one thing, and then one thing and a second thing, and then one thing and a second thing and a third thing, and so on until my mind is just a jumble of overlapping thoughts, every thought I’ve had, one on top of the other. I can’t let anything go.”
I looked up at her.
“And I don’t need one more staving thing buzzing around in my head along with everything else. I need to stop some thoughts before they get too big and too much to handle.”
Candle stepped forward, but not too close.
“You could have an epic life, Nova.”
“Did you forget?” I said. “You’ve seen my Hero Trotter account. You’ve seen what I would do with an epic life.”
Carefully, she reached down beside me and picked up something there. It was a slim, oblong box. The one from the crate we had been hiding in. She gave me a pleading look.
“Don’t open it,” I said. “Whatever’s inside, I don’t think it will fit in my head.”
I stood up and dropped the blanket behind me. I brushed past Candle and approached the window, staring out at the skyline. Then I grabbed a latch and opened a small panel set into the window. It swung out and a chill breeze brushed into the room. I climbed out onto the slanted roof and picked my way up the iron rungs, all the way to the top.
I still hadn’t ever let Candle come with me onto the roof, and she knew not to follow me there.