13. Tillamen Road

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I had never seen anything like Tillamen Road. For one, it was enormous, almost too much to take in as I stood with Fogwillow and Candle upon the rise. The sun had come out, and though the air still had a bite, the sky was clearing to a pale blue and the countryside of Gesh sprawled out before us in the sharp morning light. The Road ran north as far as I could see. No less than fifty yards wide, it was a solid stripe of activity cut into the Ferren.

A median of thick red flowers separated the traffic going north from the traffic coming south. On either side were three lanes of smooth black pavement that glittered as if encrusted with diamonds. Skims and trolley sped up and down these lanes, hovering just over the roadway, their undercarriages alight with purple, orange, and green levitation discs, pink prisms glowing beneath their hoods to feed them magic. Beside these lanes, a fourth led the way for an unending stream of bicycles, tandems, and rickshaws. And on the very outside, a final lane was reserved for those on foot.

The foot traffic didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. For as fast as the skims whipped by in the center of the Road, the crowds along the edges meandered here and there, stopping along their way at market stalls and canopies that had been set up along the shoulder. They set a leisurely pace, a river of color and noise.

“There’s no way we can hide in there,” I said, aghast. “I’ll be recognized in an instant.”

“True. Though there’s an easy enough solution to this problem. In fact…” Fogwillow scanned the Road and, finding whatever she was looking for, gave a satisfied grunt. “Yes. Let’s descend now. Not too fast! Not too slow either. Timing is crucial. Nova, get ready to hide when I tell you to.”

“Why?”

“We’re headed for an encounter.”

With that, she led us off down the rise, over patches of crabgrass and dark, craggy rocks. There was a mild wind that started low and swept up from our feet, kicking up dust along the way. It smelled like the sea.

“How long is the Road?” I said as we went.

“It cuts across the whole of Gesh, about fifteen hundred miles. You can see its start over that way.” I looked southward and saw the tips of tall buildings peeking out from between the hills. “City called Port-of-the-Bridge. We won’t visit. Far too many people to recognize us. The Road runs straight out from there, though, all the way up to Yillig.”

“Hey!” Candle said, brightening. “If we don’t find what we’re looking for in Smoke Town we could keep going on to Yillig. I’m sure my sister would love to see us.”

Fogwillow frowned. “Hm.”

“I mean if the thaumaticians aren’t in Smoke Town, we’ll still have to find them somehow, right? Maybe the university has some answers, and Hazel Mars could easily sneak us in.”

“Yillig also has a large shiftie presence. I would feel nervous about leading Nova into that particular city.”

“I’m a little hungry,” I said.

Fogwillow turned to me, bewildered. “And…?”

“I mean, I know that’s not what we were talking about, but it’s true, and I just thought of it, so I said it.”

Fogwillow wrinkled her nose and turned away. “Tillamen Road is famed for its investitures. The southernmost is called Second Wind. We’ll stop there.”

“How much farther?”

She sighed and pointed. “Look. You can see it.”

It was true. We were still a good distance from the Road, but a little ways down its path, rising through the trees, was a blue haze of a building, taller even than Gruff Stop. Dozens of white gulls circled its heights. It looked at least an hour’s walk.

“I should have rationed my weybisks better,” I grumbled, thinking of the boxes I’d bought a week and a half ago, the last time Fogwillow had permitted us to stop at an investiture.

“You should have rationed them at all,” Candle said. “I can’t believe after being forced to eat normal food for months at the observatory that you still prefer those things.”

“You have never appreciated my sensitive palate.”

“They’re essentially cardboard, Nova.”

I feigned shock. “Rods! Eoea’s staff! Let me tell you something, Emma Lyn Candle.”

“Oh no.”

“You will never find a food more perfectly crafted than the weybisk cracker. The crunchy surface, slightly singed at the edges. The doughy insides that haven't been cooked all the way through. The fine sheen of salt.”

“I can’t imagine why they don’t fly off the shelves.”

“Every sarcastic remark only encourages me.”

“Was I being sarcastic?”

“Don’t get me started, Candle. I haven’t even touched on the four tasty flavors.”

“Don’t.”

“First!” I couldn’t help but smirk as Candle groaned. “Original flavor. It takes real ingenuity to manufacture something so inoffensively bland and chewy. Second! Honey. A dollop of chemically enhanced artificial gold baked thinly within. The sweet tooth’s delight. Third! Garlic. Now this one’s not so great, I’ll admit. Where they skimped on the honey they made up for with a generous heap of garlic dust. The flavor packs a punch, by which I mean it legitimately makes you choke. And last but not least, my favorite. The final word in baking. The paragon—nay! The apotheosis of comestibles: cheese. The fine shavings of cheddar laced within the dough. The smoky flavor of a dozen factory machines. Shall I go on—?”

Candle laughed and jabbed me with her elbow to get me to stop. I did, holding a hand to my stomach and grinning. A sense of calm overtook our small traveling party. It was so easy, marching down the rise in the chill air, heading toward that perfect line of sun-washed humanity, to forget we were fugitives.

“Really, though, how far away is that investiture?” I said.

“The time will pass quickly enough,” Fogwillow replied. “It always does on the Road.” She cast a sly glance back. “Especially if you sing.”

“Sing?” Candle and I shared an incredulous look.

“Are you not familiar with Geshan traveling songs? They cover any distance faster than two feet alone.” To our blank looks, she replied: “Here. This one is about Tillamen Road itself, a solid old tune. Everyone knows it.”

As we walked, she sang:

My love lies farther down the Road
Where larkspur grew and rivers flowed,
But burned and broken is the deep
Where once I left my heart to weep.

She trailed off, squinting up into the sky. Her staff moved like metronome at her side—step, swing, step, thud. “It’s one of the oldest songs we know,” she said. “A rare artifact from the Lorn, or just after in any case.”

“I’ve heard it before,” Candle said slowly. “It’s sung by a soldier who fought in whatever terror led up to the Shattershock.”

Fogwillow nodded. “While he was off in the war, the continent split into pieces, and the love he left behind perished.”

“That’s kind of sad,” I said.

“Yes. It goes on for a time in a similar fashion, and ends bittersweetly.” She took up the plodding melody again:

Still I will travel down the Road,
Through shock and rain I bear my load,
And if by chance I reach the end
My love will join me as I wend.

My love will join me as I wend.” Candle repeated the final line after Fogwillow, in a not unpleasant voice.

“Hello there!” came a sudden call from up ahead. “Lovely singing, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Without missing a beat, Fogwillow spun me around and shoved me off the path. “Here we go,” she whispered. I scrambled for cover behind the rocks, just as four travelers rounded the corner of an outcropping. We had nearly reached the Road. A little ways farther, I could see the shadows of the foot traffic through the merchant stands. I could smell the snap of magic off the skims.

Fogwillow had lifted her hood, and she rested one hand on Candle’s shoulder. “Morning,” she said. “Fine day for traveling the Road.”

“May it lead us to good fortune,” one of the newcomers replied.

“I believe it has, sir, I believe it has.”

The two figures in the lead, a man and a woman, did not look like the kind of people I would want to get on the wrong side of—tall, muscular, with broad-shoulders and thick limbs. They wore leather jackets and cargo pants, all zippered in bronze, wind-worn and weathered, stitched and restitched, patched in a dozen different muddy shades of red and brown and green. A paisley bandana was tied around each of their necks. The man had cauliflower ears and a pleasant smile. The woman had platinum hair, one side shaved and the other side long and straight. She wore no smile at all.

But it was the two people they were leading by lengths of chain who were the real curiosity. Their hands were cuffed. They wore simple gray cloaks. And enclosing each of their heads was an iron helmet.

My breath came up short. I crawled to the side and snuck a glance around the backside of the rocks, where they were less likely to see me. The helmets covered their faces completely, save for two eyeholes and a slit for the mouth. Each was unique. One was set with a mosaic of glass tiles in irregular shapes, blues and yellows and whites. The other was also a mosaic, but instead of glass, each tile seemed to be a shard of mirror, scattering light at the figure’s feet. They were equally meant to be works of art as they were to hide their wearer’s face. I took another look at the man and woman leading them.

So. Bounty hunters, then.

I may not have heard much of traveling songs, but there weren’t many people in the Ferren who didn’t know about the bounty hunters of Gesh. The two masked people were their prisoners.

“You heading to the Broken Bridge?” Fogwillow asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” the man said. “Gotta hop a boat to Trill.”

“We just came from that direction.”

“Calm crossing?”

“Calm. Cold. Uneventful.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Bit of a scare once we landed, though. This great giant elk came down from the hills and nearly ran down the watchman. I think it was mad.” Then, as if as an afterthought: “Say, if you’re headed to Trill, you won’t need those helmets anymore, those—ah—what’s your word?”

Ouklettes?” the woman said flatly, lips barely parting.

Fogwillow nodded. “That’s it. Ook-lets. Those two look quite fine. Wouldn’t happen to be interested in selling them, would you?”

At this the woman, so stoic up until now, burst out laughing, loud and round and fierce. “You got socks for brains, lady? Trav and I made these ourselves, took months. Listen, because you seem to be new to these parts, let me give you a bit of advice: you’re about as likely to find a bounty hunter willing to part with their ouklettes as you are to find an elegon in the crapper.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Fogwillow said, growing excited. “Precisely the point. Listen, I curate a museum back in Trill, curiosities from across the Ferren, that sort of thing. Your helmets would be a perfect addition to our Geshan collection. Very authentic.”

“Forget it,” the woman said.

“I have berids.”

“Lady, the only thing between us and five hundred berids is you, standing in our way, holding up the delivery of these bounties. Move aside.”

The two made to push past. “I have information,” Fogwillow said, a little desperately. A little too desperately, I thought. The bounty hunters waved her off and continued up the slope. Fogwillow tried one last time. “I know where the Answer is.”

That made them stop. I tensed. The bounty hunters turned.

The man spoke slowly. “Everyone and their mother says they know where the Answer is.”

“It’s like hunting shadows,” the woman said. “And apart from that, he’s with Wendo the Wild. Might as well be shadows.”

Fogwillow dug into her cloak. “I can prove it.” She pulled out a photograph. With some hesitation, the bounty hunters came forward to grab it. They stared at the photo, then at each other, then at Fogwillow, whose hood, seemingly drawn against the cold, obscured her face just the perfect amount.

“Where was this taken?”

“What an expensive bit of knowledge that would prove to be,” Fogwillow said.

The bounty hunters shared another look.

Moments later, Fogwillow and Candle were in the possession of two mosaic helmets, and the bounty hunters were heading back up the rise, leading their now unmasked prisoners by their chains, in each of their heads a little lie about the Answer’s location.

I was, of course, right here. “Let me see that photograph,” I said, stepping back onto the path as soon as they were out of view. Fogwillow handed it over and I held it up to my nose. It was, indeed, a picture of me, snapped on one of those insta-print cameras. I was standing in an aisle of snack crackers and chips, hood up. “Where was this taken?”

“I snuck it during our last investiture stop,” Fogwillow said. “With their sample camera. Thought it might come in handy for this exact situation. I am very clever.”

“I’m not sure I like being sold like that.”

“Too bad. It was worth it for what we got.”

“Those helmets,” Candle said.

Fogwillow nodded. “Bounty hunting is legal in Gesh, but any person in custody for being accused of a crime, from those taken by bounty hunters right on up to those taken by the Shift Patrol themselves, must wear an ouklette to hide their face.”

“Why?”

“A person seen in captivity casts an aura of guilt on the accused. Hiding their identity upholds presumption of innocence and prevents people from using bounty hunters to ruin reputations. Would you want to be marched down Tillamen Road by a bounty hunter, your face exposed for all to see?”

“It’s protection,” I said.

“Of a sort. The loss of identity can, indeed, protect.” She unlatched one of the ouklettes. “And it will be a protection for us as well.”

My stomach fell. “We’re going to wear these?”

“You and I will, Nova, as we are the most easily recognizable.” She made a motion with her hand and her staff disappeared, back to the Crystic.

“And what about Candle?” I said.

“Many have heard of Emma Lyn, but few have seen her face. She will play the role of our bounty hunter.”

“Excellent,” Candle said, cracking her knuckles. “Just what I’ve always wanted. Nova under my complete control.”

Fifteen minutes later, we were joining the stream of traffic on Tillamen Road. We had no chains or cuffs, but Fogwillow had a length of rope, and Candle was using it now to lead us northward. The ouklette was very heavy. I could barely see out of it, and kept apologizing to people as I bumped into them. Our pace was slow, and through the narrow slit, my view of the world was reduced to a blur of colors and half-glimpsed impressions of faces, of sellers of flowers and jars of honey and vegetables, of flurries of motion, of swinging hands and padding feet. The sounds of the Road echoed around my head, strangely muted. The sound of my breathing was heavy and close.

It was like a window, I thought. Just like my windows back in Blush, framed worlds seen from the darkened roof of the investiture. Every direction I looked, a different view, a different moment, a vignette seen so briefly it was almost frozen. A man touching each apple to find the right one. A tired looking face buried in furs in the back of a rickshaw. A little girl reaching up to hold an old woman’s hand.

I could see what Fogwillow meant. Within this iron cage, the loss of identity was actually kind of freeing. I didn’t have to worry that people would recognize me. Dean Enislen could walk right by and never know. Greater than that, even, I didn’t have to worry about what anyone thought of me. Even before I apparently had one of the most well known faces in the Ferren, I would have loved to go about like this, hidden in plain sight, able to move however I wanted to move with no one attaching their judgments to a face. I had never liked crowds. Their geometry was unknowable. The way they ebbed and flowed. This was the first time I felt like it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t find my way through, because no one could see me anyway. My hands were bound and there was an iron cage around my head, but I had rarely felt more free.

We walked down the Road. The burnt metal smell of the ouklette mingled with the smell of roasted almonds and frying meats, of sweat and gravel. The whir of bike tires spun in my ears, and the whoosh of skims and trolleys sent wind brushing past. I remained, removed, in my personal pocket of sound and smell and sense.

Some time later, Fogwillow nudged Candle off to the shoulder, and I swung my head around to see the investiture—Second Wind—suddenly surprisingly close. Fogwillow was right again; time had passed quickly. My stomach rumbled at the sight, as if it just remembered it was hungry.

“All right, you two,” Candle said. “Time for a break.” She tugged on the rope. She was enjoying her role.

Second Wind stood a little ways off the Road, a tall building of pale blue stone. There was a pavilion to the side, where skims stopped to get their prisms recharged, and a patio out front where people stopped and rested at round tables with tall, colorful umbrellas. There were birds everywhere. White feathered and orange beaked. They congregated on the top of the pavilion and on every windowsill I could see. They hung around tables, curious for a fallen crumb. They circled high overhead through the misty sky.

Inside was way different than I had expected. There were a few aisles of snacks and things off in one corner, with rooms for attendants to reconnect prisms behind the counter, but most of the ground floor was taken up by a café. As the door shut behind us, the sound of the Road faded, replaced by the calm chatter of people sitting in small clusters here and there, enjoying their meals at sun-washed tables.

We found a spot by the window, and I watched a line of birds fight for position on the sill outside for a while before turning back to the group.

“This is nothing like Gruff Stop,” I said. The tables around us were empty, but I kept my voice low anyway.

“I told you,” Fogwillow said, lifting her menu. “You won’t find better comforts than along the Road.”

“Why is it so big?” Candle said.

“There are rooms for rent above us, and other things. I believe one of Second Wind’s floors is a bathhouse, known for its pink water.”

“Pink water?”

“It’s gently infused with magic so it has a bit of a spark to it. Many find it invigorating.”

I looked up at the ceiling, as if I could penetrate it with my vision.

“Ooooohhhh,” Candle said, looking at her menu. “They have dugo.”

I peered down at my own, difficult to see through the ouklette. “What’s dugo?”

“I had it in Yillig when I visited my sister once. You haven’t been to Gesh at all if you haven’t tried dugo.”

“And it is…”

“It’s a soup,” Fogwillow said. She stuck a finger through the visor of her helmet, rubbing her eye. “And if you try eating soup wearing what you’re wearing you’ll end up with a puddle around your chin.”

“You mean I can’t take this off to eat?”

“Certainly not.”

I threw the menu down and leaned back. “Being famous is terrible. What am I supposed to eat through this thing?”

“They have fries,” Candle said helpfully.

I glowered at her, but, of course, she couldn’t see my glower.

“I’m glowering at you,” I said.

“I assumed you were.”

“Afternoon, folks,” said the server as she approached the table. “I’m Riss and I’ll be helping you out today. Can I start you off with some drinks?”

“Water, please,” Fogwillow said before anyone else could respond. “Water for everyone.”

If the server seemed surprised at taking our order from a woman in an ouklette, she was professional enough not to react to it. Instead, she merely turned to Candle and said, “That all right, ma’am?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Candle said.

“And an order of fries,” I added. The server, Riss, looked to Candle for confirmation, and Candle gave a quick nod. The server disappeared.

“This is fun,” Candle said.

I picked up the menu again, scouring it for food that would fit through my narrow slit of a mouth hole. “Speak for yourself.”

The door opened and a group of what could only be more bounty hunters—without captives, each had an ouklette clipped to their belt—came inside. They were talking loudly, and my shoulders inched up in irritation as they took a seat near our table. One of them looked our way and acknowledged Candle with a nod.

“Are you still writing, Nova?”

I looked up. “What?”

It was Fogwillow who had spoken. “Are you still writing for your ticker? For Go Forth.”

“Yeah,” I grumbled. “I wish I hadn’t called it that.” I waited for her to ask why, but she didn’t. “It sounds kind of naïve now.”

“You’re not posting anything, though, right?”

I shook my head. “I know that’d be dangerous. I just wanted to get my thoughts down. I’m a little behind, though. I haven’t written anything in weeks.”

“Will you post it?”

“Maybe…” I traced the edge of the menu with my finger. “Maybe when this is all over. I’m not sure yet. Either way, it seemed good to have a record.”

Fogwillow nodded. The mosaic tiles in her helmet winked as she did so.

“I don’t think it’s naïve,” she said. “The title.”

“Plum was the one who said it to me.” Though that, I knew now, hadn’t been his real name. His real name had been Willis Enislen. Dean Enislen’s brother. “He told me to go forth and break myself. I thought I could throw it back in his face by naming my ticker after his words, after everything he did to me. Turns out it was really the Advance Academy all along. It was always the Advance Academy. I never really escaped.”

“But you have now.”

“Have I?” I said, rapping a knuckle on the ouklette. Fogwillow leaned back and sighed.

“I’m glad you’re still writing,” she said. “People may need to know what happened. And if the title is a little earnest, who cares? You’re earnest. You should write the world as you see it.”

“Hey guys,” Candle said, and nudged me. She motioned across the investiture, and when my narrow window into the world found what she was motioning to, I went stiff.

There was a lightscreen above the front counter, flipped to a newscast. The sound was off, but there were captions popping up along the bottom of the screen, right beneath the silently speaking face of Chief Inspector Rhyme. He appeared to be giving a press conference.

“Look at that,” Fogwillow said. “Our local chief inspector is on the news.”

I squinted. “What’s he saying?”

“You all catching up on current events?” Riss said, coming back with drinks and fries. We all snapped away from the lightscreen and tried to appear disinterested.

“I’ve seen that guy’s face,” Candle said.

“Lewis Rhyme? Sure. He’s the shiftie got attacked by the Answer a month or so ago.”

“Was he really attacked, though?” Candle fidgeted in her chair. “I heard he was trying to get the Answer back to that school of his.”

“Well sure,” Riss said. “Not that I really support what those creeps did or anything, but who’s to say what’s best? I mean I’ve read the Answer’s ticker, but there’s always two sides to every story, you know?”

“Right,” Candle said through thin lips.

“Anyway.” Riss went on without picking up the cues Candle was laying down. She plucked a notepad and pen out of her apron. “Sounds like this Rhyme guy’s been promoted. He’s Commander Rhyme now. Leading the Ferrenwide hunt to find the Wizard Scratshot, himself. What can I get you?”

We stared at Riss blankly as she smiled at us, pen poised.

Candle, luckily, was the first to recover. “Sorry. Sorry. I’ll have the…ah…I’ll have the dugo.”

“Good choice, and you?”

“Nachos,” Fogwillow said. Riss nodded and looked to me.

“I’m not hungry,” I said.

“All right, then. One order of dugo and one order of nachos, easy enough. You all just wave me down if you need anything else.”

Riss moved on to the loud table of bounty hunters, and Candle turned to me.

“You have to eat something, Nova.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“This changes nothing,” Fogwillow said. “Rhyme was always after us.”

“It changes everything!” I said, then quickly lowered my voice. “I’ve never really liked Rhyme, but he’s known me since I was a kid.”

“I’m sure that is exactly why the Assemblage put him in this position,” Fogwillow said.

“Rhyme’s a jerk,” Candle said, “but there’s no way he likes this anymore than you do.”

I looked back at the lightscreen, at Rhyme’s long, stupid face. “He looks pretty happy to me.” Suddenly, I grabbed my helmet and clawed underneath it with my fingers. “And this staving thing is. So. Itchy.” I grappled with it for another second or two before giving up.

We descended into grumpy silence. Fogwillow pocketed a few fries. We didn’t speak again until our food arrived, sometime later. The dugo did look good.

“Can you believe they put this guy in charge?”

Laughter. The words had come from the table nearby, where the bounty hunters were as raucous as ever.

“Some small time, clodhopper alt from a backwater city on the edge of the Ferren?”

“What’s his name again? Rhyme?

“That’s commander to you.”

“I don’t owe no allegiance to nobody. Least of all a guy who can’t even keep his shape in check. You see the buckles on those uniforms they wear?”

“What do you care, anyway? What, you going to find the Answer yourself?”

“I might.”

“Heard the Assemblage’s giving quite the reward…”

“Yeah, we’ve all heard that. Those Headstones’re gonna start a riot the first place that twerp’s seen. People scrambling over each other’s bodies to get to him.”

More laughter. I sunk farther down into my chair.

“Don’t listen to them,” Candle said.

“How can I not?” I looked out the window at the birds again, and beyond them, at the traffic on the Road. Then I looked back at the lightscreen, and nearly choked.

Rhyme wasn’t there anymore. He was standing in the back, and a new person had taken the podium.

Petite frame. Short red hair and a pixie face. Stiff black suit with a collar that rose up her neck, like it was holding her head in place. A silver locket hanging around her neck.

“Eoea’s staff,” Candle breathed. Fogwillow twisted around and froze.

Dean Enislen. Right there. The first time I’d seen her face since I’d sent her flying across the equatorial room almost three months ago. She looked different. The left half of her face was scarred and torn, a mangle of red skin that stretched from her chin all the way up across her eye and to her hairline. And all of a sudden, I was back.

In the observatory, in the equatorial room, standing amid piles of Marewill’s notes—notes on me, my life in algorithms—and Dean Enislen had just told me about the Diosec, and she had done it to make me angry, angry enough to want to unleash a mountain of power, to crush her into grit, but she had somehow—somehow—turned that anger toward something else.

Everything was a manipulation.

The prisms in my spine popped with magic as I stood there in the equatorial room. I had entered the Crystic. I’d reached my staff, finally, after all those weeks upon weeks of training, of never being good enough, spurred on by artificial implants and manufactured rage. And still, it almost hadn’t been good enough.

Dean Enislen by my side, reaching into the Crystic with me, locking my hands around the staff with her own. Helping me pull. Chaotic. Frightening.

Sharp planes of magenta magic sliced past her as she flung herself into my web of chaos. Sharp planes of magic unfurled, slicing her face…

I was back, in the present moment. Dean Enislen was on the news with a torn face and a crooked smile. I couldn’t breathe. My vision blurred. I couldn’t even read the captions to tell what she was saying. He lips moved soundlessly, cherry red lipstick, up and down, without a voice.

“Nova,” Candle hissed, and jabbed me with an elbow.

I blinked.

There was a sharp pain in my chest, as if the muscles lining my ribcage were turning in on themselves. I forced myself to take a breath.

In—one, two, three, four, five…

Out—one, two, three, four, five…

The world began to settle.

“Are you okay?” Candle said.

“I’m okay,” I said, and reached for my water glass, hands shaking. “I’ll be okay.”

Across the table, Fogwillow seemed to be staring at me, but I couldn’t see her face from behind the ouklette, and it almost made me laugh. Once again, she was too far away to offer much comfort.

“I didn’t expect that,” I said. “I didn’t expect to…to feel that…”

“It’s okay,” Candle said. “She’s not here.”

“No.” I looked back at the lightscreen, bracing myself. And it’s a good thing I did, because I caught sight of another figure, standing in the background of the press conference with Chief—with Commander Rhyme. Marewill Noal, the mild-mannered alumscript from the Advance Academy. The master of information who’d decoded my life and plugged me into a system. My father.

He looked even more tired than he used to look. His wispy hair wafted over his head. A clipboard was tucked under his arm, as usual. His white lab coat was wrinkled. He was looking right at the camera. As if searching.

I turned away. The out-of-control feeling in my stomach hardened into a pit.

“So,” I said. “Bounty hunters. Watchmen. The Shift Patrol. The Advance Academy. The Assemblage.” I reached for a fry and stuck it into the gap in my helmet. “The entire Ferren is after us.”

Fogwillow nodded. “What do you want to do about it?”

“If they’re so intent on capturing me…let’s make them work for it.”

We traveled Tillamen Road for the next three days, taking rooms at investitures, packing our meals, and stopping to eat by the side of the Road. No more cafés for us. We walked. We paused to rest. In the evenings, I sat in my bed with Candle’s portable thaumascope and wrote. We joined the traffic again. Once, Fogwillow even allowed us to take a trolley.

On the fourth day, we found a private spot just off the Road in a thicket of trees. There, Fogwillow and I unclasped our ouklettes and dropped them into the grass. I rubbed my entire head with both hands, glad to be in the open air once again. Fogwillow drew a line and pulled her staff back out of the Crystic. Candle grinned and told me my hair was getting big.

And then we left the Road behind us, setting off into the trees.