20. Clues

I sat at my desk in my attic bedroom in Blush, and my screen was open to a chat window with airbird sevens.

I hadn’t written anything yet. I was working myself up. Candle insisted I go to the Shift Patrol, and I would, eventually, but before I blew a hole in my life, before I sent the Diosec scattering, and every shining clue scampering into the ground, I needed more information. I needed to talk to airbird sevens again. Who knew if he would bother trying to contact me again once my life was no longer in danger?

Hello? I typed, then quickly deleted.

I needed something to grab his attention.

I’ve been inside the Diosec’s hideout, I typed. I sat there with my finger over the enter key. Then, just as I was considering deleting this message too, I snapped my finger down on an impulse. The message sent.

I sat back in the chair and crossed my arms, resting my head against the slanted ceiling. I waited there for a good twenty minutes before the little pencil icon on my screen started wiggling, indicating that someone on the other end was typing.

I sat up so fast that I almost slipped from the chair, and reached forward to pull the thaumascope closer to me, the lightscreen inches from my face.

What’s wrong with you? came the reply. What were you thinking? I sent you my message to keep you *safe*

I’m sorry, I typed, then deleted that too. Why did I feel the need to apologize to this person? But before I could write a new message, airbird sevens sent me a string of hasty replies.

don’t tell me anyhting

i dont want to know

you have infromation that is incredibly dangerous and you need to mke sure it STAYS IN YOU HEAD

I paused, suddenly wondering if I’d made a mistake. Airbird sevens had seemed so much more composed last time I talked to him. I hadn’t expected this.

Of course I hadn’t. I didn’t know anything about him.

I typed back, but more slowly this time, my guard going up. My friend thinks I should tell the Shift Patrol what I know.

Bad idea, he wrote.

I waited for more, but nothing else came.

I drew in a slow, shaky breath. I had come this far. Airbird sevens’ messages had taken me aback, but my curiosity hadn’t vanished. I still needed to know.

The truth is… I wrote. I thought maybe learning more about the Diosec might tell me more about you, and why you cared about saving me so much.

I watched the pencil icon bob back and forth.

Did you get your answer? he wrote.

Something inside of me snapped, and it sent a well of cold fear spilling out across my body. I recognized the doublespeak, and I hadn’t even realized that I’d been desperately looking for confirmation. It was true, then.

Yes.

A pause. Then: Eoea’s staving ass.

Another pause. Then: So you know they suspect you?

Yes, I wrote. Do you think it’s true? Do you think I could be… ???

The Diosec’s taken a lot of kids, Nova. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just stay safe.

I frowned. The message didn’t comfort me as much as I wanted it to. Maybe it was because he hadn’t actually answered my question.

What should I do? I asked.

You really want my advice? I’m not known for making the best life-choices. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here chatting with you.

You know more about what’s going on than I do. At least you can make an informed decision.

Whoa whoa whoa, I’m not making any decisions for you. You think I need that weight on my shoulders? I already worry enough about you.

No decisions. Just advice.

Airbird sevens didn’t write back for a while. I sat staring at the screen, my arms crossed, biting my thumbnail. Then, a single word appeared.

Disappear.

I shivered. It was, more or less, what I had expected. He wanted me safe. He knew a shady organization was hunting me down. He didn’t want me to go to the authorities. The only thing left was to run away. I couldn’t see myself doing it, but I would entertain the idea. It gave me an opportunity to ask a question I had been eager to ask.

Do you know Fogwillow? I wrote.

Who?

The Wizard Rarecrest.

I’ve heard of the Rarecrest family, but they’re defunct now.

She’s been keeping an eye on me since I was little. My official guardian is the Wizard Gruffin, but Fogwillow’s the one who has my best interests at heart… when she’s around, that is. She tends to go off for long stretches of time. She would probably take me with her if I asked.

That does seem… safest.

I could practically feel airbird sevens grinding his teeth through the lightscreen.

But? I wrote.

I just… I have a hard time trusting people I don’t know.

Me too. Isn’t that weird?

…point taken.

Neither of us said anything for a while. Sitting in my chair, I let my thoughts billow and uncurl, and I liked to imagine that somewhere, maybe in this same city or maybe halfway across the Ferren, on the other end of this chat window, airbird sevens was floating deep in the curling of his own thoughts.

It felt good, for a moment, to be connected to a point in the universe I couldn’t even see. To share a common experience with a pocket of space somewhere far, far away.

Then airbird sevens wrote again.

I have to go, he said. Disappear if you can, and whatever you do *don’t go to the Shift Patrol*

I bit my lip, and took a gamble.

You never know what you’ve never known, I wrote.

The pencil icon bobbed up and down for a very long time, and the message that eventually arrived was disproportionately, disappointingly short.

Goodbye, Nova.

I closed the chat window. I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and pressed my head up into the ceiling, massaging it back and forth against the cushion of my curly hair.

I wasn’t going to run away. I couldn’t leave Candle behind anyway, and Gruffin needed me in the investiture. But none of that was the point of my conversation with airbird sevens. My eyes still closed, I smiled. He had dropped several clues—maybe mistakenly, maybe not—and each one had further enforced what I had already come to believe about this mysterious stranger, and why he was contacting me, and who, exactly, he was.

A little while later, I heard footsteps on the stairs and the door opened.

“What are you doing?” came Candle’s voice.

I opened my eyes and stared at her. “Nothing.”

She bit her lip and took a deep breath in through her nose. “I’m sorry about last night,” she said. “I didn’t mean… I know I’ve gone too far when I push you up there.” She nodded to the window.

“It’s fine. I’m sorry too. Are you okay?”

“Yes. You?”

“Yes.”

So that was that. Candle stood there for a moment before her eyes drifted toward my bed, from under which the corner of a thin, wooden box was peeking out. I saw where she was looking and frowned. I had shoved it under there last night after I’d come down from the roof. Candle had been long gone by then, but she’d left the box.

“I was thinking… ” Candle began. “I won’t make you go to the Shift Patrol, not yet, not until you’re ready, but I do think we need to open that box. We can’t have a rational discussion about what to do until we know what they’re doing.”

“I agree,” I said.

“And we—” Candle ground to a halt and narrowed her eyes. “Really?”

“Yes. I have my own ideas about what to do, but I don’t think there’s any point arguing until we know everything we can know.”

She narrowed her eyes further. “Is this about airbird sevens?”

I held up my hands, my eyes widening. “No, no! I haven’t—I mean I don’t—”

“Never mind,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “I don’t want to know. Let me just quit while I’m ahead.”

I grinned at her.

“You were always very wise, Emma Lyn Candle.”

“You’re a weirdo.”

“Too true.”

She pulled the box out from under the bed and set it down on the covers. I came over and sat on the edge, watching her.

“Do you want to do it or should I?” Candle said, staring down at me.

“You do it.”

So she gripped the top of the box and slid it off, releasing a sharp, burnt smell and foam core innards and…

A weapon.

It was a gun, sort of. It was sleek and shiny like liquid silver, with an artful grip and long, long barrel. But there was nowhere for bullets. And there was no hole at the end of the barrel. And set into the place where the hammer usually fell was a small, pink prism, warm with energy.

A weapon. Powered by magic.