We gathered in Dean Enislen’s office. It was a tight fit. The Wizards Starmine, Ketchling, Fellish, and Edel were all there, standing where there was room. As many silver-cloaks as was possible were gathered in the hallway on one side of the office and on the balcony on the other, sticking their heads in the doors with drawn, anxious faces. Marewill took one of the low chairs by the coffee table, and I sat across from him, staring at my fingers as I wove them in and out of each other.
Dean Enislen stood behind her desk.
“The shattering of the terminal caused a field of destruction that took out much of the city,” she said. “Everything within that ring is scorched and dead.” There was a low murmur among the cramped silver-cloaks outside. Marewill quite literally gasped. “Within Central Circuit, where the terminal was located, and for about a mile in any direction, buildings have collapsed and the ground has split. The shoreline is broken, and the sea has caused flooding in parts of Blush even outside of the splintered ring.”
She lowered her chin, her eyes roving back and forth among us. They had, for once it seemed, lost their sparkle.
“As has happened before,” she continued, “prisms throughout the Ferren have started to lose their connection. We are better prepared this time. Air and ground traffic has been suspended for the next two days by order of the Assemblage, until things settle out. People are encouraged to report any dead prisms as soon as possible.”
“And the Splintered One?” Fellish said. Her bony arms were crossed in front of her. Her dark features looked strained and taut.
“The Ryvkk may very well be on his way here,” Dean Enislen said, and a stillness fell over the office.
Across from me, Marewill shifted uneasily. “We will have to leave, then.”
“Yes, I think so. We have a secure base, a safehouse, prepared in case something like this should happen.” And here she hesitated. “However, with air traffic too dangerous at the moment, we cannot travel for the next two days. So, for the moment, we are stuck here.”
No one spoke for five, infinite seconds. Then a low laugh rose out of Starmine, and a devilish grin broke across her face.
“I told you,” she said. “I told you that the boy’s ticker was a bad idea. He’s led the Red Wilkin straight here.”
“I’ve explained this, Lori,” Dean Enislen said in a calm, patient voice. “That is not possible.”
“He’s given the enemy all our secrets.”
“No. The Ryvkk is more monster than man, more force than sentience. He is no more capable of fathoming Nova’s writings than a wolf, or a bear. Bartholomew?”
Edel nodded wearily, his hands clasped before him. “The dean is right. The Specter of Anon-Golish is a shadow of the Crystic. He is a calculated, concentrated will, the same as any beast.”
“That’s all well and good,” Starmine said. “But how do you explain the kyving thing zeroing straight in on the Answer?”
“The Ryvkk didn’t zero in on the Answer, Lori,” Dean Enislen said, an edge creeping into her voice. “The Ryvkk targeted Blush. If he wanted to dispose of Nova, and he was capable of processing written language, he would have come here to the observatory and offed him weeks ago.”
I flinched, and Marewill gave me a concerned look across the coffee table.
“He wanted to hurt the boy,” Starmine said. “He wanted to kill everyone Nova loved.”
I flinched again.
“The Ryvkk doesn’t think like that,” Dean Enislen said. “He was bound to be drawn to the Answer to Prophecy eventually, and now he is probing. This was always a possible future.”
“I will hear no more on the subject, Starmine.”
Starmine clamped her mouth shut, seething. In the silence that followed, Dean Enislen turned her eyes on me.
“Nova,” she said, “are you okay?”
I looked up at her. My words felt slow and detached, like I wasn’t even the one speaking them.
“I know you want me to be different from who I was in Blush, to move forward. But I can’t. I need to know... ”
Dean Enislen gave me a sad look that I think was supposed to be comforting. “Understandable. I think we can bend our rules for this. Please. Ask me anything you would like, about whoever you would like.”
“Chief Inspector Rhyme?” I said. I don’t know why he was the first person to come into my mind. I think I had to start far away, start with the people who weren’t so close to the tender spots inside of me.
“He is alive,” Dean Enislen said. “He wasn’t in the Vault when the Ryvkk struck. He is now helping set up refugee camps in the forest outside the city.”
I nodded, and started to veer a little closer to home. “Len and Martha Candle?”
Dean Enislen looked at Marewill, then back at me. “We’re not sure.” Then, more quickly, “There are many people unaccounted for, Nova. They may well be alive, but it is impossible to say. We’ll know more in a few days.”
The tender spot inside of me started to throb, and I pressed on quickly. “Garrel Gruffin.”
“The Wizard Gruffin is alive. Gruff Stop was outside the circle of destruction.”
That, at least, was good news.
“We have not heard from her, but it is my understanding that she doesn’t spend a lot of time in the city, anyway. Even less, now that you’re not there.”
It was, more or less, the answer I had expected. But now came the hard one. Everyone avoided my eyes, knowing the moment had arrived. My heart was beating so hard that it was like taking a sledgehammer, repeatedly, to the chest.
“Emma Lynn Candle?”
Dean Enislen’s jaw tightened. “I’m sorry, Nova,” she said. “No one has been able to locate her.”
The tender spot swelled, and stopped my heart.