2. Pennants

Six months ago I attacked Dean Enislen, broke out of the Advance Academy, and went forth into the wild with Fogwillow and Emma Lyn Candle. I know people are wondering what happened between then and now, and particularly what happened in Yillig three weeks ago. You’re right to wonder, and I’m sorry I’ve been silent on this ticker for so long. It wasn’t safe to let everyone know my whereabouts. But now…

Well…guess it doesn’t kyving matter now, does it?

Don’t worry, I’m going to get back to more frequent, traditional posts soon, but in the meantime I want you to know that I kept writing the entire time I was in the wild, keeping track of where we went, who we met, and what we learned. Now, at the suggestion of my lawyers, I’m going to publish it all. Everything that happened these last six months, in the hopes that when the time comes, you’ll understand what I did in Yillig a little better. I’ll split it up into three exhibits, each of which will shed light on some part of my journey. I just hope the evidence I can offer is enough.

So. Where to begin.

Right. Len Candle is dead.

I stood with Fogwillow, a little ways back from where Candle knelt with her mother in the middle of the cebelis forest. It was night, and Candle’s face was hidden in the long shadows of the trees as Martha held her. It unnerved me that I couldn’t see it, couldn’t see what she was feeling. I tried, once, to go to her, but Fogwillow made a motion that told me to stay put. So I studied our surroundings instead.

We were in a grove just outside the refugee camp, and the trees here had been decorated with strings of homemade memory pennants. Usually when someone died, these small flags were strung over their grave, fine triangles of cloth embroidered with intricate, beautiful designs. It was believed that the more loved the person was, the finer the stitching on their pennants. In practice, it tended to be that fine memory pennants indicated nothing but how wealthy the person’s relatives were, and how much of that wealth they were willing to spend on the deceased. And these? I took in a shaky breath and looked up at the entwined branches. These were no more than scraps of cloth, torn from clothes, from blankets, their condition all too apparent as they twitched in the breeze and caught the moonlight on their frayed edges. Makeshift memorials for the countless departed. It made my chest ache.

“Where are the bodies?” I said, softly enough that only Fogwillow could hear. Her mouth was pressed into a tight line, and she wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Fogwillow?”

“There are none,” she finally said. “This—” She motioned to the trees, where the ragged flags were as countless as the leaves. “This is all that is left to mourn.”

I thought of the broken terminal Dean Enislen had taken me to visit once. I thought of the burned out circle, the scorched and still-smoking earth that ran a mile in every direction. That was all the Ryvkk had left behind. Nothing. That was all that was left of Len Candle, too. And a good part of Blush, or so I was told.

In the clearing, Candle and her mother stood up. I tensed, waiting as they shared a few more moments together, then headed our way. Candle’s face was still veiled in shadow, head hung. I couldn’t help it; I ran and met them halfway.

Martha drew to a stop before me with a long, inscrutable look. Candle hung back, and when I tried to get a good look at her, her mother shifted, almost imperceptibly, blocking my path. Guarding her daughter, I realized, and my mouth went dry.

“Which pennants are his?” I managed to get out.

Martha turned and pointed to one of the branches. “The green ones, there.” There was no warmth in her voice.

I stared. They were small, and I thought maybe Martha had knitted them herself before I realized they were made of socks, cut open and strung along their own unraveled wool.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and was immediately angry with myself for saying it. I hadn’t done this. I had nothing to do with the attack on Blush. I’d been halfway across Trill. Held captive in a staving observatory.

I met Martha’s eyes. The moonlight made them sharp, and I could see nothing in them but distance and fatigue. Behind her, Candle sniffed.

“People will be watching for you,” Martha said quietly.

“I know.”

“I could turn you in.”

My stomach twisted. The silence between us extended into something profoundly uncomfortable. Martha had always been happy to see me, had always greeted me with kindness. I could still see the echoes of those feelings somewhere, in the lines of her face, but they were faded, like a prism without magic. We had arrived barely an hour ago, and as soon as she saw me her guard went up, and hadn’t gone down since. Whatever her feelings toward me, Martha Candle was definitely not pleased to see me anymore.

Finally, Candle brushed forward. “Come on, mom,” she said. “No one here’s going to turn Nova in.” I started for her, but she was too fast, leaving me in her wake as she headed back in the direction of camp. Martha followed after without giving me a second look. Fogwillow waited, straight-backed, leaning on her staff, at the edge of the grove.

Autumn was coming on. Cebelis trees didn’t turn, exactly, but their pink leaves did fade to nearly white. They were just beginning to fall now, and the memory pennants bristled at their passing. They cast darting shadows on me as I gathered my emotions by myself in the strange, makeshift mausoleum.

“Nova,” Fogwillow said after a time. “Come.”

“Why?” I said miserably. “What are we even doing here? What’s even the point?” Fogwillow swept her staff out and came forward, her earthen robes trailing behind, hemmed with weeks of dirt from our journey back to Blush. She looked down at me and her eyes seemed to see straight through my head, as if I were the only spark of magic in the Ferren. She still smelled like steckleberries. I gave her a pleading look. “What am I supposed to do?”

 “First, we need to get you home.”