27. Parent and Child

Hazel Mars packed a duffel bag and went to spend the night at Kodaselu’s place. I tried to make her stay, but there weren’t enough beds, and she made it very clear that we’d all be more comfortable spending the night apart. She brought Alphabet with her. So Fogwillow took the couch—by her own stubborn insistence—and I took Hazel Mars’s bed, and we spent the night in my best friend’s sister’s apartment, alone, a thousand miles across the Ferren from anything I found familiar. At least we were safe.

I couldn’t sleep though. The blinds were thick, but the city lights still bled through around the edges, and I might have been imagining it but I could swear the apartment building was wobbling as it floated in the sky, and my pajamas felt like they were twisted around me no matter what position I lay in, so eventually I got up and flipped the bedside lamp on. The room was small. It smelled like vanilla soap.

Swinging my feet over the side of the bed, I pulled Candle’s backpack over and dug around inside, fingers closing around a small prism, set in a steel mechanism, with a coil of wire trailing out the back. Candle’s prism. I pulled it out and turned the thing over in my hands, ignoring the cold shiver in my chest as I stared at it. Ignoring the even deeper sensation beneath that—the guilt I was still trying to keep at bay.

Maybe to distract myself, maybe just to feel some sort of connection at all, any connection, I synced with the Crystic. The warmth spread through my bones, and I pulled that warmth up through the prism, which began to glow pink between my fingers, magic flashing against its hard edges.

And then the door opened. Yelping, I stuffed the prism under my thigh and turned to see Fogwillow framed in the doorway.

“Can’t sleep either?” I said, too quickly.

“I saw the light on under your door. What is that?”

“What?

“That thing you’re hiding.” Sheepishly, I showed her the prism. Fogwillow narrowed her eyes. “That’s not…”

“No, it’s not mine.” I said. “Candle made it. She wanted…wants…to use it on herself.” To my surprise, Fogwillow had no reaction to that, other than to continue staring curiously at the thing. My cheeks grew warm. “I got mad at her.”

“I would imagine you did.”

“Do you think it’s right, though? Don’t you think it’s weird for her to want this? She’ll never be a real wizard anyway.” The words just slipped out. Again. My cheeks grew even warmer. I stuffed the prism back in Candle’s backpack and zipped it up so I wouldn’t see the glow. When I looked back at Fogwillow, she was considering me with that same curious expression.

She turned sideways in the door and beckoned. “Come here. Join me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To get some fresh air.”

We went out onto the balcony, which was not much more than a ledge, and listened to the street noises rising up from below, all blended together into a mushy stew. It was cold, but the bite felt good.

“I dislike sleeping inside,” Fogwillow said. She held the railing with both hands, staring straight out into Yillig. Her profile, and the wisps of her wild gray hair, were silhouetted in amber and red. The wrinkles in her face seemed deeper tonight, hung with worry. “You cannot control other people, Nova. Least of all your friends.”

“But if I think she’s doing something wrong?”

“Do you? Do you really think it’s wrong?”

I bit my tongue. It had definitely been wrong for me, or at least the way the Advance Academy went about it. “I think it will hurt her.”

“More than not having her friend on her side?”

“She knows I’m on her side.”

“Mm.”

“What? Don’t make that sound. I don’t like that sound. You don’t want me to do anything at all. You want me to just let her walk into danger. To do nothing. Because that’s what you did with me all these years. You just let me go.”

Fogwillow tensed, and I shrank back, wishing I hadn’t said that.

“No.” Fogwillow’s voice was strained. “I want you to be better than I was.”

“You were…you were fine, Fogwillow.”

Her fingers tightened on the railing. “I was afraid of what I might do to you.”

The question presented itself fully formed and clear as sunlight, as if it had been waiting for the right moment to emerge from behind the clouds, a question I had carried with me for months, but never really considered. “Did you know I was the Answer to Prophecy?”

A soft intake of breath. “What?”

“When you first found me in the scratshot home? Did you know? Is that why you decided to take me?”

Fogwillow didn’t answer for a good long while.

“I have always loved the elegons,” she finally said. “To me, they are the true mystery of the Ferren. The ruins are cold and dead. The Lorn is too abstract for me. But the elegons…they are alive. They have a will. Of some sort or another…”

I waited, and soon she went on.

“There were hundreds of them that night. I stopped for a rest in the woods outside a small town in Trill, called Nime, but sleep wouldn’t come. The air felt charged, pulling at my skin. Finally I rose, breathless, to see that while I tossed and turned there between the trees, the elegons had gathered. More than I’d ever seen before, and have ever seen since. I froze, surrounded, watching them watching me. After a while, they pulled away, into a stream of light that bent off through the forest.

“I followed, of course. They brought me into Nime, to an orphanage near the docks. They were slipping beneath the crack under the door, dozens at a time, and I crouched down to watch them go. I must not have been very conspicuous, because sooner or later the door opened and a woman asked me what I thought I was doing. She couldn’t see them. For some reason, the elegons were showing themselves only to me.”

She swallowed, looking down. Her knuckles were white.

“When I saw you for the first time, a baby sleeping in his cradle, it wasn’t really you that I saw. You were covered in the elegons. It wasn’t until I picked you up that they fell away, like so many leaves. I drew you up out of the light.”

With small, furtive movements, she rubbed her fingers against her eyes.

“Did I know you were the Answer, Crystic-chosen to save the Ferren from the Ryvkk? No. I did not. But I know I was meant to find you. I know someone wanted us to be together. I know I betrayed that mandate by giving you to Gruffin.”

I put my hand on the railing, near hers but not touching. My chest was so tight I thought it might tear open. She had never said these kinds of things before. Never. “You didn’t betray anyone, Fogwillow. Even if you had, you more than made up for it these past few months.”

“Just a little late, is all,” she said, smiling. And then she looked at me. Not her terrible, piercing look, but something softer, warmer, if no less intense. Like I was the only spark of magic in the Ferren. “I wasn’t afraid I would mess up raising the Answer to Prophecy, Nova. I was afraid I would mess up raising you.” She released the railing and drew her palms close to my face. I didn’t flinch away, and she didn’t touch, but I could feel the warmth of them against the chill of the night air. “You must not be afraid. Not even of your friends making mistakes.”

Fogwillow let her hands drop, and we both turned away, out toward the city.

“Where does your family live?” I asked suddenly.

“What?”

“The Rarecrests. Where do they live?”

“Eldehill, or just outside of it. Why?”

“Eldehill,” I said, thinking to myself. “Everything seems to be in Eldehill. It’ll be dangerous, but it might be worth it.”

“Nova,” Fogwillow said warningly.

I made a couple quick decisions, and turned to her. “I’m not going to turn myself in. I can’t. But we are going to find Candle and help her escape, the same as she did for me. And then, the three of us are going to Eldehill. We’re going to find the first half of Eoea’s staff at the Shift Patrol headquarters, and while we’re there, you are going to pay a visit to the Rarecrests.”

“That won’t be happening.”

“You need this Fogwillow. Even if you can’t forgive them, they’ve been holding you back for years. You’re going to get some sort of closure, even if that closure is punching your parents in the face.”

At this, Fogwillow let out a burst of uncontrolled laughter, which she quickly bit off, jaw clamping down. I grinned.

“Don’t be afraid, Fogwillow.”

Her smile was tight and rueful, but she said no more on the subject. We stood on the balcony and let the sounds and light and wind wash over us until I began to wonder if it ever actually stopped, if anyone ever actually went to sleep around here or if everyone, like me and Fogwillow, was up and restless and trying to distract themselves.

“You will eventually have to go back, you know.”

I froze. “What?”

“You will have to go back into the world. Rejoin those who are chasing you.”

I was reminded of Candle’s words in the thaumaticians’ monastery. Maybe you should have just stayed at the Advance Academy after all. Fogwillow’s words were different, of course, but they were too close. They brushed against the same cords of pain Candle had plucked wholesale, and sent a thrumming sense of anxiety through me. I tried to catch her eye, but she only stared out over the city, thoughtful.

“Not now,” she continued. “But someday. If you want to defeat the Ryvkk, you’ll need more resources than I can offer. More friends.”

“How can you say that? If I go back—” My words grew rough, and I started over. “If I go back, then what was the point of this? What was the point of any of this?”

She turned to me, looking hurt.

“You think our journey these last few months hasn’t served a point?”

“No! No, that’s not what I meant.”

“Nova, you can’t be on the run forever. Already, we’ve lost Candle.”

“We didn’t lose Candle,” I said hotly. But we might have. Eoea forbid, we might have. I might have screwed this entire thing up.

“You think it will be the same after this?” Fogwillow said. “That Hazel Mars will let her sister go again, that Candle will still want to go?

I couldn’t respond. The fear that Fogwillow was right had stopped my tongue.

“The observatory was bad for you, Nova, I think that’s clear. But this, too, is a kind of prison. Trust me. I know what it is to run. You will shed everything and everyone you’ve known, everything you are, until you’re truly alone, stripped of identity and purpose, even of name. Go on long enough and you won’t even remember the way back. So before it’s too late, you’ll need to stop. You’ll need to turn. You’ll need to jump headlong into the writhing pit you escaped from, so you can fix it.”

I drew in a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It sort of helped.

“Only when you’re ready, though,” Fogwillow said. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

She smiled at me, staring for just a little too long. And then she nodded across the street, and her voice grew soft and comforting. “Look. Windows.”

So there were. They weren’t the same, they weren’t my windows, but all up and down the opposite street I could see glimpses into other worlds, like from my rooftop in Blush. Contained in their little boxes, I saw people talking and laughing, coming and going, reading and eating and watching the news. Families and friends and people who sat alone, or so they thought. All of them part of the patchwork light surrounding us. Fogwillow stood beside me and we watched, framed in a window of our own.

I actually slept pretty well that night.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“Well, what did you decide?” Hazel Mars said, coming through the doorway the next morning, bearing bagels wrapped in wax paper. Alphabet, trailing his leash, barked and bounded for my waist. I fended him off with mild success, until he grew bored and made a beeline for Fogwillow.

“We’re going to go find her,” I said. “We’re going to get her out.”

Hazel Mars set the bagels on the table and lifted her chin, frowning. She seemed to be considering something.

“What?” I said.

“Hm. Nothing.”

We ate breakfast together around the table, and I pushed some money toward her, which she wouldn’t accept.

“I know we don’t know each other that well,” she said, “but we’re practically family, or so I hear.” She wiped a bit of cream cheese from the corner of her mouth and ignored the small pile of coins I was holding out. “However, before you go, I do want to show you something.”

“Show me something?”

“If you can spare some time. We’ll need to go uptown. There’s…” She hesitated. “It might be nothing, but there’s something I found while working on my dissertation. I talked it over with Kodaselu last night, and we both think it could help.”

“To find Candle?”

“No. It’s…it’s about the terminals.”