There is one more secret to tell. Or two more, depending on how you look at it.
Fogwillow and I left the equatorial chamber by the side door and hurried down the stairwell to the underbelly of the observatory.
“There’s a trapdoor down here,” she said. “It leads to a path through the mountains.”
“I know,” I replied. “I’ve seen it before.”
“Nova,” she said. “Nova.” I paused on the steps, and turned to see that Fogwillow had come to a stop behind me. “It won’t be easy, this life you’re about to choose. The wild has no definite answers.”
“I think I’ve had enough of answers for a while, Fogwillow.”
We pressed on. The wide hallways beneath the equatorial room were lit with flat florescent lights. My body was beyond aching. Every muscle was numb, and my spine felt tapped and hollow. Still, I led the way down the long passages until we rounded the corner and saw, at the far end, the heavy metal door set into the ground.
“Better hurry,” Fogwillow said. “I don’t know how long the silver-cloaks will stay put.”
As we ran down the hall, I said over my shoulder, “How did you know to come back for me?”
“Just a hunch. My last visit… I didn’t like what I—”
And then we came up short as Marewill emerged from a doorway before us, looking harried and frantic. Fogwillow lowered her staff at him, but I held my arm out, blocking her.
“No, no!” I said. “Fogwillow, he’s okay. It’s just Marewill.”
Marewill held his hands up to show them empty, and gave a weak smile. Fogwillow hadn’t backed down, and I still stood blocking her, staring at the alumscript from down the scuffed hallway.
“What’s happening?” Marewill said. “I heard noises. The building shook.”
“I know everything,” I said. Despite saving him from Fogwillow’s wrath, my voice was stern, low with anger. “Dean Enislen told me it all. The Diosec. Plum.”
Marewill paused, hesitating. “She told you everything?”
“I read through a lot of your notes. How much of it was your idea?”
“The Diosec? None… none of it was my idea. I leave the big ideas for bigger people. Nova, my job has always been about nothing but numbers, and numbers don’t lie.”
He swallowed, eyes darting from side to side, and took a step forward. Fogwillow’s grip tightened around her staff, but I held fast.
“Nova,” Marewill continued. “Are you… what are you doing?”
“Leaving? But… ” His voice took on a pleading tone. I almost felt sorry for him. “We searched for you for years. Most of my notes… all of my life… equations to find you, equations to locate the Answer. It was… it was… it was the most important thing I’ve ever done. You can’t leave. You can’t disappear again.”
“I’ll break if I stay here, Marewill. That’s what the numbers do. They break you until you’re nothing. Nothing but… but… ” I searched for the right word, but my mind was too weary.
“Utility,” Fogwillow said lowly.
“What’s out there for you?” Marewill said, and his voice was suddenly fierce, his expression changing dangerously. I flinched, and brought my staff forward. “Uncertainty? Confusion? There are no guarantees beyond this Academy.”
“And there is nothing genuine within it,” I said.
This actually seemed to hurt him. His face fell, his anger subsided, and he brought his hands together, twisting his fingers. “Nova, I… I’m sorry.”
“Then let us pass.”
“Nova, I… ” His voice was trembling. “I know I’m terrible at being there for you, I know I couldn’t give you what you wanted. I don’t know what to do with emotions. I think it’s why I like the numbers so much. But I… I joined the Advance Academy so I could find you. Even if I can’t express it, I… ” He searched for words that weren’t there. And then he sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Oh, Nova, I’m your father.”
Everything went blank. Everything that had happened in the past few hours. My entire world was wiped away. I straightened, dropping my staff to my side. I could sense, dimly, Fogwillow stiffen behind me.
I realized, belatedly, that Marewill was babbling.
“I didn’t want to give you up. There was nothing I could do. I knew you were the Answer to Prophecy, so I knew my best chance at finding you again was joining the Academy. And I had information for them, too. Information they could use to track you down. I helped them. I worked endless nights. My head was filled with systems. I knew they would lead me to you, and they did. I have always trusted the systems.”
I felt like I couldn’t even see Marewill. He was a blank spot. A piece of information I couldn’t integrate into my world. And then something else occurred to me, and reality came thudding back down.
“You,” I said. “You’re airbird sevens.”
Marewill gave me a strange look, a mixture of surprise and dismay. “What?” he said, then looked from side to side. “No. No, Nova, airbird sevens… airbird sevens is your mother.”
It was too much. I took a step back, into Fogwillow. She moved out of my way, and came around the side, edging closer to Marewill.
“My… my mother?”
“She always thought she knew what was best for you.” His voice was bitter. “It was she who hid you away, before going into hiding herself. She gave you up. Such a stupid thing, getting in touch with you after all these years. She almost revealed her position.”
“You’re the source,” I said. “You’re how the Diosec… I mean, how the Advance Academy… how Plum… ” I stopped, entirely confused, barely able to put the pieces together.
We have reason to believe you are the Answer.
“Yes,” Marewill said, holding up a hand as if to comfort. “Yes, as soon as we found you I knew you were my son. It was on my confidence that Dean Enislen mobilized the Academy to help you. To train you.”
Through the Diosec, he left out.
“Step aside, Marewill,” Fogwillow said. Marewill didn’t look at her.
“Only if it’s what Nova wants.”
I didn’t know what I wanted. There were so many questions going through my head. So much longing, fear, and uncertainty. I had to get away from this place, and yet, right here, staring at me not ten feet away, was everything I had ever wanted.
I looked up at Marewill, my… father. The family I had spent hours building in my head. He was nothing like what I had planned for.
“Come with us,” I said suddenly. Marewill took a step back, surprised.
“With you? Nova, no. You have to stay. You have to finish your training. It’s the only way the equations work out.”
“Come with us,” I said again. “Or… or we’re going without you.”
Marewill’s expression hardened. “I can’t let you go. You’re my son.”
I took a step forward. It was one of the hardest steps I’d ever had to take. Marewill moved to block my path.
“Listen to me!” he said, urgent, desperate. “If you leave, it won’t just be the Advance Academy after you, or some smokescreen Diosec. The Shift Patrol will be on your tail, with every resource at its disposal, and the Assemblage itself will employ every arcane enchantment to spirit you back into its control. The entire world—every person in it—will work toward your capture. Everything will be against you. Everyone will move for the reclamation of their hero. The Ferren will find its Answer.”
“Yes,” Fogwillow said. She had come around to the side of Marewill, and suddenly she was alive with magic. “On that last count, you’re right. But before that can happen, something equally monumental must occur. The Answer must find his Ferren.”
“No,” I said. “Wait!”
But Fogwillow thrust the butt of her staff up and sent a whirligig of energy through the air. It hit Marewill in the knees and sent him toppling to the ground. He grunted and tried to rise, but as he did I steeled myself, gripped my staff, and sent another jolt toward him. It took Marewill across the face and he fell sprawled on his back, unconscious.
I swayed slightly, from weakness and in horror at what I had done.
“Come on,” Fogwillow said, nodding. “We don’t have any more time. The silver-cloaks.” She hurried toward the trapdoor, then turned back to see me still standing in shock, staring down at Marewill. Her voice grew gentle. “Nova, I’m sorry. I know this is difficult. But we have to leave. Now. That is… if you still want to.”
I looked up at her.
“Did you know?” I said.
She gave me the slightest shake of her head. “No. I’ve never met your parents. All I know is… you must be the spitting image of your mother.”
I smiled, but even now I was noticing the similarities between Marewill and me. Maybe not physical, so much, but there was definitely something there. I looked back down at him, lying slumped on the ground, breathing softly. I reached out a hand to touch him, then withdrew, unable to do it. Tearing my gaze away, I joined Fogwillow. She nodded, and knelt down to get her fingers around the trapdoor.
“As I was saying,” she said, grunting against the weight. I set my staff aside and bent down to help her. “I didn’t like what I saw on my last visit, so I made a plan. A plan to help you, should you ever decide you had had enough of this place. I went back to Blush, and… well… ”
The trapdoor released with a jolt and a grating sound. We swung it up and it crashed against the back wall. I peered down into the darkness.
“Well what?” I said.
And then a face popped out of that darkness, scaring me half to death. I shouted and stumbled back.
“Hello, Nova,” Candle said, grinning. “You wouldn’t believe how much progress I’ve made in Hero Trotter since you left.”
“What are you doing here?” I said.
Candle raised her eyebrows. “That’s a great thing to say after not seeing me in months. I spent hours planning my first line and all I get in return is what are you doing here? As if we were thirteen again. I’m here to rescue you, of course!”
“But… but I… Blush… it was shattered… ”
Her face fell. “I know. So you’ll forgive me if I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’d like to go make sure my parents are okay. Rods, Nova. You haven’t changed a bit.” She looked me up and down. “Well… maybe a little. In the face?”
Suddenly, I laughed. I laughed until there were tears in my eyes, and almost—almost—hugged her. “It’s good to see you, Candle.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Scratshot. Now get a move on!”
We filed down through the trapdoor, one by one. Candle first, then Fogwillow, then me. Before I ducked below the threshold, I took one more glance at Marewill.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I think I might already have a family, though. Maybe someday you can join it.”
When we got to the bottom of the tunnel we emerged into the night air, at the beginning of a path cutting down through the shadowed mountains. Light was emerging in a haze on the jagged horizon, and Candle dug into an enormous backpack and shoved a box of weybisks into my arms. Cheddar flavor. I opened them immediately. And they were the best things I had eaten in months.
We spent a few minutes shuffling supplies around, and then Fogwillow, Candle, and I each shouldered a backpack. I caught Candle’s eye as I buckled the straps around myself, and smiled. She smiled back. There were so many things I wanted to ask her, so many things I wanted to tell her. But they could all wait. There was no time, and for now, just being near her was enough.
I hiked my backpack up on my shoulders and readied my staff, but before we could go very far, Fogwillow stopped us in our tracks with a whisper.
I looked where she was pointing and inhaled sharply. Just down the way, near the edge of the path, there were not one, not two, but three elegons floating in a cluster. They were pink and purple and orange, and they seemed to contemplate us as the air around them shivered with magic. And then Fogwillow was urging us on. The elegons continued watching us curiously as I tightened my grip on my staff, took a deep breath, and went forth into the wild.
I have written these last few entries from an undisclosed location and uploaded them to the Crystic through a thaumascope that Candle brought with her. I don’t know when I will be able to post next. With the whole Ferren after me, it isn’t safe to give constant updates on my thoughts and whereabouts.
But I can tell you this. Candle is with me, and Fogwillow, too. And I don’t know where we’re going, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?