Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (31 page)

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It was nearly evening when someone approached him from behind and tapped his arm. It was the Silent girl. She’d been helping the team that cleared out the shack as best as she could, and she held what looked like a dollhouse sitting on a board. She held it out to Alex.

He sat up and squinted, looking at it. Then he wiped his hands on his pants and took it from her, peering at every detail. It was a miniature replica of the mansion, in all its glory. “Wow, cool,” he said, lifting up the roof to peer inside at the hallways, staircase, and adorable miniatures of Simber and Florence at the front entrance. His heart clutched when he thought of the cheetah. He swallowed hard and said, “Where did you find this?”

She pointed at the shack and beckoned him to come with her. Inside, she pointed to a cupboard under the kitchen counter.

“Huh. No kidding,” Alex said softly. He could picture Mr. Today standing at this counter years ago, dreaming about his future home, making plans, creating this replica, and then slowly re-creating it life-size with magic, bits at a time. It felt like Mr. Today was right here with them, in spirit at least. Something Mr. Today’s hand had actually created was now in Alex’s hand. There was a good deal of comfort in that.

He turned to the Silent girl and smiled, grateful she’d thought to bring it out to him. She must have known instinctively that it would be important, even though she knew so little about what was going on here’she barely knew Mr. Today at all, and she’d seen very little of the mansion except for the hospital wing where she stayed. “Thank you,” he said. He crouched down and slid the mansion back into place in the cupboard.

She crouched down next to him, brought her fist to her chest, and smiled back.

 

The Way It Is with Twins’Threedux

T
here was something strangely fulfilling about the new High Priest Aaron’s ride to Artimé, knowing what a disaster was there now, and knowing he’d caused it. Truly a lot had happened since the last time he’d seen his brother at this gate.

He’d managed to batten down his fleeting feelings of pity for his brother, though he didn’t feel entirely like gloating to him about his new position. Something Haluki had said kept gnawing at him, but he wasn’t sure why. Besides, there would be plenty of time for gloating later.

Still, he found himself being driven here at his own request by his new faithful guards. Also accompanying him was his newly appointed secretary, Eva Fathom. He still didn’t entirely trust her, but he knew the ancient saying: Keep your enemies at your side to learn their every move. So this would be the perfect situation to put Eva in. Face-to-face with the people who trusted her in the midst of the mess she helped create.

As they drew close, Aaron pulled a pistol from his cloak and laid it on his lap so that whatever guards were protecting Artimé could see it. He wasn’t looking for trouble. Not today. His Restorers needed a bit of a break.

“What do you want?” the Artiméan guard asked when the jalopy pulled up.

“I wish to speak with Alex Stowe. I presume someone here might know who that is.” Aaron didn’t mean it as a joke.

The other guards laughed bitterly. “Apparently you don’t, though,” one of them muttered. It made them all the more loyal to Alex when they caught whiff of Aaron’s haughtiness. Who would want to follow a leader like that?

One of the guards found Alex carrying a lifeless beavop. “Alex, your brother is here. He says he wants to talk to you.”

Alex narrowed his eyes and ignored the fear that sparked in his gut. “How many are with him?”

“Just his driver and another guard, and his secretary.”

“All right,” he said. He set the beavop down and walked to the gate, greeted his own guards, and said to them, “Can you please tell Aaron to approach alone? I’ll speak with him in the road. And tell him to leave his weapons behind.”

The guards stepped back to the gate, eyeing the Quillitary vehicle suspiciously, ready to attack and defend their new young leader if they had to.

Alex walked to the center of the road and clasped his hands in front of him, waiting. Aaron took his time getting out of the jalopy, smoothed the wrinkles in his cloak, and walked up to Alex. He carried a small bundle wrapped in a burlap peanut sack.

Alex narrowed his eyes. “What’s that?”

Aaron flashed a patronizing smile. “Greetings to you as well, dear brother. It’s been a long time.” He held out his hand in a lazy fashion like the High Priest Justine might have done. But Alex didn’t take it, bow over it, kiss it, or otherwise acknowledge it in any way.

In fact, Alex’s deep brown eyes held none of the warmth they’d held a few moments earlier, inside the shack with the Silent girl. “I don’t have time for chitchat, Aaron. As you can see, we’re quite busy here.”

Aaron glanced into Artimé, but his eyes didn’t linger. He seemed bored. “That’s why we’re giving you a bit of a reprieve to get your things together. I wanted to invite you and your . . . people . . . ,” he said with a sneer, “to live in Quill. We have several jobs available where they can earn their keep.”

“Get out of my sight,” Alex said. “No one here wishes to be a slave to you.”

Aaron shrugged. “That’s fine. I thought you’d appreciate the gesture. It’s a lot easier to get water delivered to your home than it is to steal it by the barrelful,” he said.

Alex glared at him and said nothing.

“But I’ve let your workers get away with it this time.”

Alex didn’t waver. “Is there anything else?”

“Just this.” Aaron held out the package. “Though with the way you’re treating me now, I’m hardly inclined to give it. Ah, but I’m here. And I certainly don’t want it.”

Alex held the glare a moment longer, and took the package.

“When Mr. Today died, he didn’t say a word, by the way.”

Alex worked his jaw. He wasn’t prepared for this. He knew he was showing weakness, but he had to ask. “How did you kill him?” He’d been wondering, and no one seemed to know.

“Oh,
I
didn’t kill him,” Aaron said, as if he was delighted Alex asked. “He died of a heart attack. Five of them, to be exact’all at once. Pity.”

Alex’s own heart nearly stopped. He squeezed his tired, red-rimmed eyes shut for a moment and then opened them again. His voice was barely above a whisper. “You killed Mr. Today with my own spell?”

“Oh! That was one of yours?” Aaron feigned surprise.

Alex couldn’t believe it. “How did you get the components?” he demanded. “No one has access to them.”

“Oh, ho, ho, perhaps not. But my secretary did.”

Alex shot a glance at the vehicle. He shielded his eyes and peered in through the window. Looking back at him was Eva Fathom.

His lips parted and he sucked in a little breath of recognition. And then everything came together. He’d given Carina Fathom twelve heart attack components. Eva Fathom, whom Mr. Today trusted, was working for Aaron, not for Artimé. All this time . . . Alex felt a huge wave of disappointment flood over him. He was too trusting again. When would he stop thinking the best of people?

Eva caught Alex’s stricken glance. Her eyes widened just slightly at his disappointment. She’d been expecting it. She didn’t react further. A moment later she averted her eyes and faced the front of the vehicle.

Alex felt the blood rush out of his head. His own amazing spell, the one that had gotten raves, had killed Mr. Today. He took a second to compose his anger. Finally he looked at Aaron and said evenly, “Where’s Ms. Morning?”

Aaron smiled again. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

That vague sentence was more info than Alex had expected. Almost too much. “Haluki?”

“Tch,” Aaron said. “Now you’re getting desperate. Not attractive, Alex. Especially not from where you stand in this disaster area.”

Alex gripped the package and shook his head as if he pitied his brother. “You’ve taken everything I love. What else could you possibly want from me?”

“Ahh,” Aaron said with a grin. “I thought you’d never ask. But the answer is nothing.” He pushed a lock of hair off his forehead. “Not today, anyway. Perhaps in a week or even ten days, when your water runs out and your people are getting shot for stealing, you’ll be anxious to talk again. But for now? Not one more thing.”

Alex folded his arms across his chest, the package still dangling from his fingers. “Then go.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Aaron pointed to the sack.

Alex, disgusted, didn’t give him the satisfaction of a response. He turned on his heel and walked away.

Aaron stayed where he was, watching Alex walk back into the dreck of Artimé, the hollow smile never leaving his face. When his brother was out of sight, he got back into his vehicle and signaled the driver to go.

“That seemed to go well,” Eva said.

“Silence!” Aaron said. He wanted to brood alone.

 

Coming to Terms

B
y midnight things had settled down in Artimé. The exhausted teams had worked hard, fed by inspiration and adrenaline, and now more than fifty of them were able to find floor space in the shack to lie down for their six-hour sleep shift. The un-shacked sat in small groups on the hard cement or in the sand along the water. Most dozed, a few talked, some mourned family, friends, and Artimé.

The tide was out and the moon full, and a couple of clever teams were out gathering oysters, clams, prawns, and anything else they could find to eat, while another tireless group worked at making a fire from remnants of the Silent kids’ raft and the flint Alex had found inside the shack.

The team that had found the boat, unharmed and bumping up against the east wall of Quill, pulled it onto the beach. They’d been clever enough to bring back the net and fishing gear they’d found inside, and now that team stood as far out as they could, casting the net over and over, catching a few fish now and then.

Inside the shack Henry Haluki babbled on and on to the Silent boy about Quill and Artimé and the big battle, and then he pulled his magnifying glass from his pocket and made his eyeball enormous. The Silent boy smiled, seeming to enjoy all of it. Sean snored lightly on the floor next to Meghan, who slept as well.

It was as harmonious as it could be, under the circumstances.

» » « «

Alex, carrying the unopened package from Aaron in his component vest’s interior pocket, picked up one last stiff platyprot and brought it over to the wall, next to Ms. Octavia. He got down on his haunches and turned to her, adjusting her glasses to where she liked them, just so. “I’m trying,” he said wearily to her. “I wish you were here.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stop the sorrow and hunger headache from getting any worse. Then he went over to the creatures that couldn’t be moved because of their weight, namely Jim and Florence, both near the shack.

He kneeled next to Jim and petted his mosaic shell, noticing its intricacies for the first time.
What a lot of work went into that,
he thought. Mr. Today always pointed out others’ abilities, but he rarely spoke about his own amazing talent as a sculptor. Alex traced his finger along the pattern. “So much detail,” he whispered into the night. “What I wouldn’t give to hear your exceedingly slow speech right about now, Jim.”

The winged tortoise didn’t answer.

Alex moved to Florence. She was twice his height and frozen in full, glorious stride. Perhaps she had been running when it happened, making Artimé shake with her steps. She was sleek and ebony and beautiful, just as she always looked. Alex almost expected her to turn when he reached up and touched her arm. “I’m so sorry,” he said to her. “If there’s anything you can do to fix things here . . . well, just let me know.” But he didn’t expect an answer.

He turned, considering taking a walk down by the water to process his thoughts, but there were Unwanteds everywhere. There was no place as far as the eye could see to sit and think and be alone.

Then, from somewhere above his head, he heard a scraping sound.

He looked up above Florence to the roof. There sat the Silent girl. She froze when Alex saw her, as if she were caught doing something wrong.

“Hey,” Alex whispered. “How did you get up there?”

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