Authors: Gwenda Bond
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #Romance
We stare into each other’s eyes, ignoring the sounds of the false future coming from the TV. It’s as if nothing else exists besides this moment and his decision. I am afraid to breathe.
Finally, he raises his arm and points behind us. Toward a corner that, on closer inspection, is not dusty. There’s a door there that I assumed went to a closet. The knob shines.
“There is a way,” he says. “It starts right over there.”
“Ready?” Oz asks.
“Yes.” I am, having gone upstairs to get my backpack with the excuse it has my reliquary key in it. Also, everything I own that’s here is in it, which I don’t tell Oz. The clothes and unicorn poster belong to Bronson, and he can have the uniform, jeans and T-shirts I’m taking with me back later, if he wants them. It hasn’t occurred to me until now to wonder if I’ll ever spend another night in my actual room at home.
Oz lays his palm against the unassuming wooden door.
“Is there a reason I don’t even want to notice it?” I ask him.
He nods. “Same reason no one really pays that much attention to this house. For that matter, to the street it’s on. There are fragments of Amaunet’s papyrus staff embedded within the door to the outside, and this one. She was Amen’s consort, the hidden one.”
“You guys and your toys,” I say.
Oz angles his head to look at me, without removing his hand from the door. “None of these things are toys. If you don’t understand that, we should stay here. We shouldn’t be anywhere near your reliquary or the Jefferson. Especially not today. The reason your father’s in such trouble is because the relic he took could–”
“End the world?”
“Close enough,” he says. “Maybe things could have been different before, but we killed one of them. We did that. You think they wouldn’t turn on us if they could do it without risk? You’ve
them. It would be a whim. Wipe out most of humanity. It would make their day. Relics are not toys.”
I can sense that he’s about to drop his hand, that this will all be over.
“Oz,” I say, “look at me.” He does. “It was a bad joke.
know these aren’t toys, believe me. No one knows better than me. My life is already ending. You get that, right? It’s over, I should throw a wake for it. I get a new one, apparently, but… I won’t ever have that one back. You said you’d take me to see Dad, one last time, to say goodbye the only way I can. Are you going back on that?”
I feel like an absolute monster as I hold my breath. I don’t release it when he focuses on the door and says two words I don’t recognize and couldn’t repeat, and steps back and says, “After you.”
Then, only then, do I breathe. The knob turns beneath my hand, and the door opens.
There is only cool blackness within. Oz cranks the gas lantern that’s his contribution to our expedition and it flares to life. “We’ll have to stay close,” he says, and I step into the dark. He secures the door behind us.
The low visibility takes a little while to acclimate to. I steady myself by putting a hand against the wall (cold stone, but comfortingly not damp). There is a stray scuffle in front of us. Oz must notice how I tense, because he says, “Mice, most likely. Nothing to worry about.”
“Says you.” Then I ask, “Will Ann release the hounds when she comes back and discovers we’re gone?”
“I left her a note,” he says.
If he put too much detail in it, that could be a problem. “You didn’t tell her–”
“It says we went for a walk, to get some air, and we’ll be back later.”
“I apologize,” I say.
“For what?” he asks, the lantern light flickering over his skin. “Makes sense you’re nervous.”
I’m beginning to be able to make out the shape of the passageway in the rough circle of light, though not much of it. Brick walls curve, rounded, and a smooth floor angles slightly downward. The mice must have pell-melled away, because the quiet beyond us is immense, a silent forever.
“For assuming you would suck at being sneaky, I meant,” I say. “Should we get going?”
“Yes.” He holds the lantern up with his left hand to illuminate our path, and offers me his right arm. I slip mine through, wishing I wasn’t so aware we’re touching. For gods’ sakes, it’s only my palm on his lower arm. I shouldn’t like that spot so much more than where we
touching. Stupid body.
After we’ve gone a few feet, he says, “But I’m
to be sneaky.”
“For big flashy operations,” I say, “not for sneaking out of a house.”
“Sneaky operations are by definition not big and flashy.”
I grunt to acknowledge this
be a legitimate point. Still, the Society doesn’t seem to do subtle.
“You’ve had lots of practice at sneaking out, I take it?” he asks.
“Every time I thought Dad might notice. Or anytime something fun was going on late. There are still some excellent bands that swing through here, willing to risk having to go acoustic. But,” I emphasize, “I never left a note.”
“You wanted to get caught, and you wanted him to worry.”
I make the mistake of looking over my shoulder, at the absolute black behind us. I refocus on the small circle of light from the lantern ahead of us. As long as it’s burning, the dark doesn’t matter. The lantern’s glow is dim and fuzzy enough that even if Oz
have to pay attention to carrying it and leading us forward, he couldn’t read my expressions.
“I made sure I got caught, whenever I could,” I say. “Dad… never cared. Or if he did, he hid it from me.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s true. I think… I think he was relieved not to have to share any of this with me. To have a life that was his, without me in it. I think he’s always blamed me for Mom. She could have stayed with us, if I didn’t set her off.” I anticipate that he’s going to feel moved to tell me I’m wrong, so I say preemptively, “Just don’t. I’m right about this. Look. You know how you told me yesterday, where you were. Do you want to know where I was, when it happened?”
Oz hesitates, but says, “If you want to tell me.”
We glide through an ocean of darkness together, on this tiny island of light. This might be a mistake, but I want to. I’ve never told anyone the whole story before. Not even Bree and Tam. They got an edited version. I owe this to Oz. Maybe it will help him understand why I’m the way I am. As much as I do, at least.
“I was at school.” I half-laugh. “And everyone’s parents flocked there to pick them up. Cars didn’t go dead here. Not right away. There was gridlock. They brought us all to the lobby to wait. There were parents who ran up, sobbing, terrified, who’d left their vehicles to get there faster. All they were telling us then was that there was some kind of world upheaval. Unrest. We thought maybe it was a terrorist attack. Whatever, I was
my mom and dad would come.” I go quiet for a long stretch, stuck back there. The school’s front steps and the parking lot might as well stretch in front of us instead of darkness. The chaos of pickups transforming into deserted blacktop as the minutes ticked by. “And there I was, after every single kid was gone, after the teachers and the principal had taken off. Waiting on the steps, thinking it
the end of the world. Because if my parents could have gotten to me, they would have. Everyone else’s did. So, I made my way home. I was twelve, and I’d never walked it on my own. I kept getting lost. I saw… this lady, in the distance getting mowed down by some blue god and had no idea what it was. I just started running. And when I got home? No one was there. Neither one of them showed up until late that night. Mom already wasn’t herself. Three days later, she left us. Dad might as well have gone with her. Everything changed.”
He says, with care, “It did. That day changed
“What it changed for me was I knew exactly where I stood after that. If the world was ending, no one cared enough to come for me. No one cared enough to make sure I wasn’t alone.”
“Does it help, knowing a little bit of why they couldn’t be there? Or does that make it worse?”
He sounds legitimately curious. I gaze into the nothing before us, and think about the city who knows how far above us. About everything that’s happened, and everything that will.
“I don’t know yet,” I say. Honest.
That kills the conversation for the long minutes that we spend walking through the Endless Passage Under Creepy Street. But it’s not endless. Eventually, we stop in front of an elevator.
“No one staffs this up top?” I ask.
“Not the floor we’re going to. It’s meant to give the director access and an exit route that isn’t strictly monitored. No one will be anywhere near the reliquaries while there’s a big event like today’s underway. We should be able to get in without seeing anyone. At least, that’s what I’m counting on. Because I will be in major trouble if we do.”
The elevator stops, and Oz pulls the lattice gate open.
I cross into the old-fashioned cage, saved from acknowledging the serious rules he’s breaking to help me out. He presses a button on a glowing panel of them. A symbol like an “A” with extra slashes. I lean against the polished gold railing, holding on with my free hand as the elevator rises. Oz busies himself cranking the lantern to power it down. The light shuts off.
“Look at me,” he says.
The elevator shimmies slightly in mid-air, like the cable might come loose. Wouldn’t that be my luck? But when I glance over at him, Oz is intent. He says, “They may not have come for you that day, Kyra, but I believe they would’ve if they could. And I believe they should have, no matter what.”
I don’t trust myself to respond. I’m not as convinced as he is. I
they had, just like I wish he was right.
The elevator stops, Oz slides up to the gate, pushing it open. He peers out into a shortish hallway, marble and relatively featureless. I’m not sure exactly where we are, but even from the back of the cage, I can see we’re alone down here.
Unable to turn off his training, as we exit Oz motions for me to stay close to the left side of the hall. He holds a finger up to his lips. Soon enough, we go through a door and out into a more familiar hallway. It’s the one lined with those nearly identical reliquary doors, the golden light fixtures dangling overhead at regularly spaced intervals. We stay quiet as we creep past the House names.
When we pass House Spencer, I know mine’s not far.
And here we are. The sigil key radiating light, unlike the one I take from my pocket. I have a moment’s fear that I’ve forgotten which key is which – since they look identical – but I stashed them in different places. Bronson’s is in my backpack. I open the door with no fuss this time, enjoying the flip of the nameplate at my touch.
“We’ll need to be quick. If anyone does come down here, they’ll see the door open right away,” Oz says.
“Trust me. I’m the last person who wants to get caught here.”
I lead him to the case Bronson showed me yesterday, half-worried I’m misremembering. But there it is. Sure, there are other items in here I
use. I might don Legba’s cap and sow confusion behind me like planting a garden, or take up the bow and fire perfectly targeted arrows. But I can’t take that kind of risk. No flashy operations for me, either. I’m doing what I believe I can accomplish.
So I open the cabinet, and reach up to the top level for Vidarr’s shoe with its thick sole and wild riot of colors. The size is impossible to fix at a glance. Whether it will be too tight or big enough to swallow my foot is a mystery. The effect is probably part of its magic.
“I just put it on?” I ask. Even though I’ve seen relics work several times, part of me thinks:
This? This recovered
is really going to make me invisible?
“As far as I know,” Oz says.
I bend and slip it over top of my scuffed, heavy boot. A hum of energy passes through me, over me, around me. Or does it? It’s not so different than the nerves I woke up with, than the way I feel being here and doing this.
Oz tilts his head, narrows his eyes. His brown hair is in perfect order today.
“I can’t see you anymore, if you’re wondering,” he says. “Not even a hint.”
The chance to have one more genuine moment between us is
tempting to resist. I can’t stand doing exactly what I’m supposed to with
Darting forward, I mess up Oz’s hair. I ruffle it quickly, and step back as he swipes out to catch me.
He’s laughing. And I am too, even though
should be impossible.
“Hilarious,” Oz says.
He stays completely still for a second, then lunges toward me. I’d knock into the case if I moved away, and so he catches me. His arms seize me, and I’m laughing again. Looking down at me, he says, “Now I’m invisible too.”
“Oh, right,” I say, like an idiot checking out his arms lightly around me. We are practically chest to chest. Not quite touching everywhere, but… close. Our eyes catch. He lifts one of his hands and flicks a finger outside the tight frame we currently make.
“See it?” he asks.
“I do.” There’s a light transparent film between us and the rest of the world – there to keep us safe from detection beyond its borders. No sight or sound can escape. “Wow.”
“Better than being frozen?” he asks.
But it’s not a real question and I don’t answer it. I reach out and watch as the trembling film expands at my touch, keeping my hand inside it.
“Wow,” I say again. “I understand every abuse of power by every Society member ever. That is
“Now you really
been listening to your boyfriend. Relics are sacred. Used for necessity. Not for–”
“Fun?” I supply.
“Not for personal gain,” he replies.
Oh, Oz, if only I could tell you everything
been told. Not by Tam. By people who know the score, namely my mom and Legba. “Anyway,” I say, “to suddenly be able to be invisible… There’s no other word for this. It’s magic. Maybe it’s borrowed, maybe it’s limited, but it is still extraordinary.”