8. Disaster Averted
We arrived at the outskirts of Saffron at approximately two hours after sunset. I was exhausted. Rowan had driven us at a hard pace and we’d only stopped briefly twice all day. Rowan glanced back at us and started to give orders. “Okay guys,” he began energetically. I glowered at him, resenting his obvious wakefulness. My own thoughts felt fuzzy and thick, making it difficult to concentrate. A buzzing noise was trying to drown out Rowan’s voice and I shook my head to try to clear my head, only to realize the buzzing was Rowan’s voice. I shook my head again and concentrated on what Rowan was saying. “… we’re here. We have to go to Salim to see if Rory left a message. When we meet with her, we’ll update her on what’s been going on at camp and our new mission before heading for Sheil to establish an outpost there.” I rolled my eyes. As if we didn’t already know this. Rowan had walked through our mission in excruciating detail before we’d left.
“Looking at something?” he barked at me.
I glowered at him sleepily, trying to think up a snappy reply quickly. A reply nagged at the corner of my thoughts and I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Sir no sir!” I saluted him crisply, straightening and pulling myself to my full height. He glared at me and turned away. This time as he walked away, I didn’t fall to the back of the line but pushed my way forward until I was walking beside him. “What,” I demanded, “Is your problem?”
“The problem,” he snarled, staring straight ahead, avoiding my eyes, “is you.”
“I got that,” I snapped. He glowered at the ground in front of him, still ignoring me. He muttered something about arrogant kids under his breath. “Arrogant?” I snarled, “A kid? If I’m a kid then you most certainly are the same.”
Suddenly he spun around and slammed me into the wall. I struggled to free myself but he grabbed the front of my shirt and pinned me there. “You’re right,” he responded, alarmingly calm, “You aren’t a kid. You are arrogant. You waltzed in and landed yourself an assignment within a day of escaping the Magicians. Most recruits wait months before the Trustees consider them ready for an assignment. I didn’t even want you on this trip – you’re a risk and a liability. You don’t even know how the Liberation operates, let alone how to defend yourself. You’re here because I owed you a favour. Period.”
I stalked away from him with my eyes blazing. When I was out of his line of sight, my shoulders slumped and the fire went out in my eyes. He was right but he didn’t have to treat me as if I was a burden. Yes, I was inexperienced but I could learn. I had to. Why had I wanted to come on this mission in the first place? So far, I’d only made a fool of myself in front of everyone. I felt a hand rest lightly on my shoulder and I stiffened abruptly. It was Bridget.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she murmured softly, “Rowan’s right. You haven’t been here very long, but you have skills and experiences of your own.”
“So?” I prompted, “It doesn’t make a difference does it?”
“It does if you use your strengths,” she replied, “And who knows your strengths better than yourself.”
I nodded grimly and looked down the street. We had entered a dark grey avenue that had hardly any windows looking down on it. It was obvious why the Liberation had chosen it as their base in the city. In other words, it was Salim Celtyy, the message place. “Mystic Alley,” an old faded sign read at the corner. I paused and glanced up the line to see what Rowan was doing. He had stopped in front of the outline of an arch and now proceeded to press lightly on every third brick around it. When he had finished he pressed the brick in the very centre of the arch – level with his chest. I watched in amazement as the brick smoothly slid into the wall creating a cavity that had not been there before. With slow deliberation, Rowan reached in and pulled a small glass orb out of the crevasse. Blue and green swirled over its surface. Rowan gazed at it for a second and then frowned. “This isn’t Rory’s,” he announced abruptly.
“How do you know?” I asked curiously.
“Because we all have a personalized one,” Rowan said brusquely, “Speaking of which; you need one.”
Jesse sighed and turned to me. “It’s a Message Orb,” he clarified, “Everyone within the organization has one that is specifically his or hers so we can keep in touch easily. To make a message you activate the Orb and tell it what you want your message to say. Then it duplicates itself and divides into two orbs. The copy orb is the one you place in the ‘mailbox.’ The receiver of the message gets the copy orb and transfers it into their Orb so they can hear it.” He reached to his neck and withdrew a glass pendant that hung around his neck by a silver chain. It looked exactly like the one in the crack except different colours swirled over its surface.
Rowan took the orb and carefully pressed it against his own. After a second, the “Copy” glided easily into his grey and black Orb. As it slid in a silky feminine voice started to speak. “Rowan, we waited in the square until just after lunch today. Ray and Rory may still be there when you get this – if not they’ll be back at our house. Oh, and watch yourselves. Someone followed Rory this morning. She says she lost whoever it was but you never know who may be watching. See you soon. Cathy.”
“We need to go see Cathy then,” David said, stating the obvious, “Ray and Rory will have headed back to Ray and Cathy’s by now – it’s after dark.” He turned around, took in Rowan’s now pale face, and hastily continued. “If Rory lost whoever followed her, she lost him. She’s not careless about things like that.”
Rowan didn’t look convinced. “Sure,” he muttered softly. He looked up at the rest of us and continued more loudly. “But we’re going to have to be careful. Let’s break into two groups just to make sure.”
Bridget paused outside a three-story, beige apartment. It was luxurious with a red roof and had a balcony engraved with a simple floral design. And it was much too fancy to be anything but a Magician’s house. “What are we doing here?” I demanded.
“It’s Cathy and Reynold’s house,” Carla replied snappishly, as though blaming me for my ignorance.
“But…” I stammered.
“I know. Nice, eh. It’s nothing like a Magician’s house. Believe me,” she sneered, “I’ve been in a couple, and they are much more elaborate.”
Bridget walked up to the front door and knocked twice. “Come in!” a faint voice called. I recognized it to be the one from the message – Cathy. The door opened and a tall slender woman peered out at us. “Oh thank the Elements you made it!” she shrieked, ushering us into the house and hugging us, “I was worried out of my mind! What took you so long?”
Bridget shrugged. “Rowan was late getting up,” she said. Her voice lowered to below a whisper, “And the Trustees wanted to pass on some additional instructions before we left.” A meaningful glance passed between the two of them and Cathy bit her lip anxiously.
“Where’s Rowan?” she asked, glancing around to see who had come in with us. “He isn’t with you?”
Bridget shook her head. “He’s here,” she said, “He took your message to heart and was over-cautious in coming here. We separated into two smaller groups so we wouldn’t be so conspicuous.” At that moment, we heard someone tapping on a back door. “And here he is.”
Cathy herded us back through the house. As we passed, what looked to be a dining room Rowan, Jesse and David appeared at the end of the hall. Cathy shrieked and ran down the hall to hug the three of them. “Thank goodness you’re here!” she sobbed into Rowan’s neck, “Rory’s gone!” For the first time, I realized that she was extremely distressed. In the dim light, I could barely make out the tears that were in her baby-blue eyes.
“Rory?” Rowan echoed, bewildered, “Cathy? What? Where?”
“She’s gone!” Cathy wailed, “I tried to stop her but she left!”
“Cathy,” Jesse commanded, taking control of the situation, “Calm down and start from the beginning.”
“We didn’t want Rory to be seen leaving our house on the off chance that they were watching us. So we split up intending to rendezvous at a little coffee shop close to the square we were supposed to meet you. Ray and I got there with no incidences but one of the Medici's men saw Rory and followed her. She swore she had lost him so we proceeded to the square anyway. Then, after I had returned home to make supper for everyone, they saw him again. They returned here as quickly as possible and Rory decided that it wasn’t safe for her to stay any longer so she left. I tried to stop her but you know how she gets…”
“Yeah, I know,” Rowan interjected tersely, “Go on.”
“Well,” she continued, “that’s it really. She said she’d meet you in Bedlam’s Wood at Safe Haven.”
“So she left?” I asked incredulously. I couldn’t believe it. I had come all this way to see Rory and she wasn’t even here.
She shook her head sobbing again. Rowan reached over and gripped her wrist tightly. “Why did you let her leave?” he demanded curtly.
“I know, I know,” she sobbed, “But what could I do? She was out the door before I could even protest.” She broke down into sobs once more and a man stepped from the shadows and enveloped her in his arms. I realized this must be her husband, Reynold.
He was tall and wiry with hazel-green eyes and feathery black hair. He inspected at me with intelligent eyes for a moment and then looked down at the woman in his arms to comfort her. “Shh, Cath,” he murmured quietly, “It’s not yer fault.” He then looked at Rowan with unfriendly eyes. “What are yeh doin’ upsettin’ ‘er like that?” he demanded angrily with a thick Atlantian accent, “She couldn’t’ve stopped Rory from goin’ off any more than I could. We followed ‘er fer a couple kilometres but yeh know how good she is at hiding when she doesn’t want ta be found. If we could’ve handled the situation differ’ntly we would’ve.”
Rowan stepped back looking abashed and a red flush crept up his dark face. “I’m sorry Cathy,” he apologized sincerely, “I didn’t mean anything by it. I-I’m just so worried about Rory. She hasn’t been herself for a couple of months – ever since she was assigned to the Medici’s…”
Reynolds eyes softened. “Wer’ worried too,” he said, “She wasn’t ‘erself in the couple days she was ‘ere either. She didn’t talk too much but we could tell ther’ was somethin’ wrong. At least not like we remember seein’ as we ‘aven’t been ‘ere a while.”
“That just makes it more important to find her before she does something stupid,” Rowan said.
“You’re forgetting something Rowan,” Bridget interjected, “Rory’s had years of practice with magical and non-magical concealment. You’ll never be able to find her if she doesn’t want to be found. You have to consider her position with the Trustees too. They—”
“I know all about her position with the Trustees,” Rowan snapped, “They updated me this morning.” The others hushed him hastily. Suddenly everyone was on edge. I wondered what had changed since the night Rory had appeared as a Phantasm in my tent. We had generated this plan so we wouldn’t raise their suspicions.
“What’s changed?” I asked crossly. Cathy looked over at me and shook her head slightly. Everyone else pointedly ignored my questions. We sat in silence for a while and then Cathy pulled a steaming dish of pasta from the oven. After eating, Cathy ushered us into the sitting room. The uneasy silence, which had blanketed us in the kitchen, carried us into the new room. Finally, Rowan shrugged and started a quiet conversation with Reynold. Gradually, the rest of us followed suit, fidgeting in our seats and making small talk. I didn’t join a conversation, preferring to examine the room.
Pale yellow awnings hung at the windows lightening the deeper red walls. A low scratched table sat in front of the single couch upholstered in an ugly floral print. Two matching chairs flanked it, with coffee tables on either side. Other than the two chairs and couch, nothing matched. There was a rocking chair in one corner with mismatched chairs from a dining room set scattered around the edges of the rest of the room. Overall, the room was sparsely furnished with only one painting of a vase of flowers adorning the far wall. I thought this was an indication of Cathy and Reynold’s status but also thought that it indicated that they valued their friendships more than their worldly possessions.
My examination of the room was cut short as Rowan looked over at me meaningfully. I felt a consciousness brush mine and opened mine enough to identify it as Rowan’s. < Murmur “Audrok”. But not loudly enough to be heard by anyone. > he said.
< Why? > I asked.
< Because the Trustees are spying on us. If you want me to answer the question you asked at dinner, I need to make sure no one can hear or see us by magical or physical means. When you do, focus on harnessing the same energy you used while helping Rory the night you escaped. >
I nodded, did as he asked, and felt a surge of energy leave me. The walls of the room seemed to shimmer in response. “Thank you,” he said aloud. A hush fell over the room and we all looked at him expectantly. His eyes slid shut and he concentrated for a few moments on something none of us could see or hear. When he did not speak immediately, Carla leaned forward and opened her mouth but said nothing when Jesse raised a hand warning her not to. Finally, Rowan opened his eyes and nodded. “We can speak without fear of this conversation leaving these walls.” He said. He stood and walked to the chair where Cathy was sitting. Looking into her eyes, he knelt and took one of her hands in his.
“Cathy, can you ever forgive me for how I treated you when we first arrived this evening?” he asked, “I feared that the Trustees would guess that we all knew they were traitors if I did not react badly to the news that she had left already. Nothing could be farther from the truth – I am incredibly grateful she managed to leave before we arrived or I would have had to do the unthinkable.”
Cathy laughed. Her laughter broke the silence that had entangled us for the past hour, releasing a tension I hadn’t even realized existed until Cathy banished it with her carefree laughter. “I thought you were about to propose!” she chortled, “and I was going to say that I was already married.” Rowan nodded but remained silent, waiting. Around the room, smirks and half-smiles peeked out from behind frowns.
“Of course I forgive you,” she said a bit breathlessly, “Bridget had given me warning anyhow. I expected nothing less.”
“Thank you,” Rowan murmured. He stood and made his way back to the centre of the room. “The Trustees have denounced Rory and charged me with returning her to Tent City as a prisoner,” he announced, turning to face us, “They know she knows they are traitors and want to silence her before she can usurp them.”
Bridget nodded confirmation. “My orders are the same: do not speak with her, sedate her, and transport her back for questioning.” The half-formed smiles from Cathy’s joke vanished and we all looked at each other grim-faced.
Cathy gasped. “How do they know?” she asked, “I thought she only told the nine of us.”
“As far as I know she did,” Rowan said, “But I can’t know whether Luke, Rory, and I were overheard the other evening or if someone else tipped them off.” He paced the room restlessly.
“Someone?” Jesse asked skeptically, “Who?” He glanced at me suspiciously and I was abruptly aware that they were all staring at me now. I held my hands up in the air, warding off their angry expressions.
“I didn’t tell them,” I protested, “I haven’t even met them yet.”
“You don’t want to,” David muttered darkly.
“It wasn’t Luke,” Rowan said, turning to face us, “I think it was the Medici’s. They know that she was a spy. They also know that Rory was in Elaina’s rooms and saw the note on Elaina’s desk. The only explanation I can think of is that the Medici’s warned the Trustees as soon as they realized Rory had seen that note.”
“What they don’t know is that we know,” Bridget said, “That’s why they’re spying on us. They want to make sure we don’t know. But that puts us all in danger. If we try to head back to Tent City while the Trustees are still in power I can guarantee that we will meet the same fate as Rory, should they ever catch her.” She glanced at our stricken faces. “So, we need to decide what we do now.”ns 22.214.171.124da2