Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (6 page)

Alex wiped his clammy hands on his pants, jiggled his foot up and down,
and waited.

Soon Mr. Today looked up. “Aha. I see,” he said. “So what are you

“I’m saying that, um, that I’m kind of like Ms. Morning, I guess. I don’t
want the job. Yes, that’s exactly it. The point, I mean. Of what I’m saying. That is.” A
pocket of air rushed from his lungs with a little squeak after he said it. He shifted
gingerly in his seat and waited for Mr. Today’s response.

The old mage smiled. “But I haven’t even told you anything about it yet.
Are you sure you want to make that decision so hastily? It might not be what you

Alex furrowed his brow. “I guess I’m just not a leader.”

Mr. Today stood up and began to walk slowly about the office. “I
understand,” he said after a long minute of pacing. “And I accept your wishes. We should
all do what we are passionate about.”

Alex felt a rush of relief. “Yes. Totally. We’all of us should.”

“Let me ask you, Alex, where do your passions lie?”

“My . . . ,” Alex began. “My passions . . .”
His voice trailed off, and then he closed his lips again and thought for a long moment.
“I guess I’m not sure.”

Mr. Today nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps you can think about that over the
next week and we can discuss it when we meet again.”

Alex deflated. “Perhaps. I mean, yes, of course.”

“But in the meantime, my dear boy, will you kindly indulge my old soul by
letting me tell you what passions I see in you?”

“O-okay,” Alex said, a bit suspicious but completely curious.

Mr. Today’s eyes lit up. “Wonderful. Thank you.” He stood, staring out the
window for a moment, one hand raised slightly before him as if to deliver a soliloquy,
but not the magical kind. He brought the outstretched hand inward to clutch the folds of
his robe near his heart, and turned to face Alex. He began simply. “In you, Alex, I see
a young man who loves to create and experiment with new spells. True enough?”

Alex nodded. He was always creating or trying new things’trapping clay
that forms shackles around an enemy’s wrists, ankles, or neck, origami dragons that can
attack from a hundred feet away, and the 3-D door, something he was incredibly proud of,
even though it had caused a lot of trouble. Very few Artiméans could make one of
those’only Ms. Octavia, as far as Alex knew.

“I also see a loyal, fair-minded young man who cares about people and
consistently wants to give them second chances when they mess up. Agreed?”

“I guess,” Alex said. He thought about his once-enemy Samheed, and how
close they had become. And Lani, how she used to drive him crazy. And then he thought
about Aaron. “Maybe I give too many chances,” he said. He looked at his hands.

“Forgiveness is not a negative trait.” Mr. Today walked to the window and
looked out. “Not if one possesses common sense. Which you do,” he said, turning and
wagging his finger at the boy. “And it’s a priceless gift, too, for common sense is not
something one can just acquire at will. You either have it or you don’t, as they

“Yeah,” Alex said. “I suppose so.” He looked up eagerly to see if Mr.
Today had any more kind words to share.

“Alex, much of your strength lies in your honesty, in your courage in
battle, in the way you inspire others to be better people’like Samheed, and believe it
or not, like Aaron.”

Alex snorted. “See? I’m a failure.”

“Not at all. Aaron is fighting his own internal battle, and you very
nearly swayed him once to join our side. Perhaps one day you’ll try again, and who knows
what can happen? No one else in Artimé has that power.”

Alex was silent. Mr. Today moved back toward his desk and sat on the
corner of it, facing Alex. He was wearing slippers today, Alex noted with a little

After a time, Mr. Today spoke again. “I want to tell you a story,

Alex nibbled at his bottom lip, waiting. Wondering now if Mr. Today really
understood that Alex was turning him down.

“Simber,” the old mage said.

Alex turned automatically to the door, expecting to see the beast.

Mr. Today shook his head. “No, he’s not here. Simber was my first
creation. Before there was Artimé, there was Simber.”


In the Beginning

he old mage, still sitting on the corner of his desk, had a familiar faraway look in his eye as he thought about the beginning of Artimé. “I knew magic growing up’a few of us did, but we were largely an underground society on Warbler Island. Justine and I both could do it. I was better than she.”

Alex sat up. “Wait’Warbler Island?”

Mr. Today nodded but didn’t explain, choosing rather to continue with the story. “Once she and I moved here and we established Quill, the wall began to go up, which took years. Also during those early years, all the people were made to forget their pasts and their magical abilities. And Justine instigated the Purge. You already know that eventually I became disillusioned with our motives and moved from Quill to this part of the island, and I lived in the little gray shack you saw when you first entered the gate.”

Alex nodded. “And . . . you said something about Simber?”

“Ah, yes. One day I was down on the beach, feeling quite utterly alone in the world. I had suppressed my artistic tendencies, accepting Justine’s belief that creativity was a sign of weakness. But that day we’d had a rare bit of rain, and the entire stretch of sand was damp. I began to sculpt an animal I’d once seen in a book as a child’a cheetah. It was the most stunning creature I’d ever seen, and I still remember that picture as if it were here in front of me.

“I worked to re-create it all day, getting the curve of its back and roll of its shoulders, the strength and proportion of its hind legs just right. Its face, its eyes’intelligent, powerful, fierce but caring eyes. And then, on a whim, becoming uniquely inspired, I added wings. Perhaps I was feeling a bit caged in myself.” He chuckled softly, lost in the memory for a moment. “When I knew that I had perfected each part of the creature, I preserved that part with magic, making its surface almost completely indestructible,” he said, smiling proudly. “And then, when I was quite finished, I brought it to life.”

“Wow,” Alex whispered. “Simber is made entirely of sand?”

“Indeed. Thus, Simber lacks the spots that a cheetah normally has.”

Alex looked puzzled. “How did you bring him to life? I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

Mr. Today smiled as if he had a secret. He whispered, “That’s because I’ve never taught it to anyone before.”

Alex leaned forward, his eyes wide, his heart pounding in anticipation. “Will you teach it to me?” he asked.

The creator of all magical life in Artimé leaned forward as well. He pressed a finger to his lips for a long moment in consideration, his eyes flickering once to the wall and then back to Alex and remaining there, holding the breathless boy’s gaze, until the weight of the question nearly toppled them both. Finally, Mr. Today whispered the answer.



The Slightest Clue

lex’s face fell. He looked away. “Oh.” He felt heat rising to his cheeks.

Mr. Today’s eyes were filled with pity. “I’m sorry,” he said, and it came from somewhere deep, somewhere very sincere. “As much as I want to, my dear boy, I can’t do it.”

“It’s okay.” Alex wished he could disappear into the chair cushion. Why did he even ask? Why would he think Mr. Today would teach him when he wouldn’t teach anyone else? It felt almost as bad as when Ms. Octavia told him he couldn’t advance to Magical Warrior Training last year. He raised his eyes to the old mage. “It’s because I said I didn’t want to be the next leader of Artimé, isn’t it?”

“Truthfully, yes,” Mr. Today said, sitting back in his chair once again. “I made a promise to myself a long time ago that there would be certain spells, certain properties of our particular kind of magic that I would not teach to anyone but my successor. I fear these abilities could get into the hands of people who are incapable of using common sense, and who don’t understand the value of that power.” Mr. Today eased off the desk. “So as much as I trust you, I must save this particular secret for the right person. However,” he said with a small smile, “I did give you the slightest clue.”

“You did? What was it?”

But Mr. Today only smiled and changed the subject. “So, now you know the story of Simber, who remains one of my most incredible magical creations . . . and my dearest friend. His memory is impeccable, and everything he has experienced is captured in his inner senses’it didn’t take him long at all to learn everything he knows. Such an amazing beast! He can see and hear better than any human or animal. He is capable of emotion, as you’ve witnessed more than once, and he is loyal to the end.” He gave a wry smile and added, “You may have noticed that Simber cannot perform magic, though many of my other creations can. I didn’t think of it at the time, him being my first, and now it’s too late, but he hardly has need for it. The only other thing I didn’t anticipate was that he would grow. I created him life-size, but he grew as if he were a newborn on that first day. I’m grateful for it now, but there was a time when I wondered if he’d ever stop.”

“Wow,” Alex said. “And did he? Stop, I mean? Or is he still growing?” He couldn’t imagine Simber getting any bigger.

“Oh, he’s stopped,” Mr. Today said, laughing. “Thankfully.”

“And you created Ms. Octavia too? Is she also made of sand?”

“Oh, Octavia’such a delightful creature,” Mr. Today said, his hands clasped together. “No, she’s not made of sand. She was a different sort of sculpture experiment. Simber is of the earth, Octavia is of the water. Clay, seaweed, lily pads, shells. That sort of thing.”

“So her parts aren’t . . . aren’t real? Like, not from a real octopus and alligator?”

“Good heavens, no. I’d never behead a living creature to create something magical. How heartless.” Mr. Today clutched his robe dramatically. “No, she is purely fabricated. But I’m honored that you can’t tell.”

“I can’t! Honest. She’s amazing.”

“Don’t tell her I told you, but her eyeglasses are purely for show. She’s quite vain about them.” He chuckled.

Alex grinned. And then he grew thoughtful. “Why can’t Ms. Octavia or Simber or Florence be the next leader of Artimé?” Alex asked.

Mr. Today was taken aback, as if the answer was obvious. “Why,
my dear boy. They were created by me. They exist only at my command.”

Alex furrowed his brow. “So how do they die? Or don’t they?”

“Aha! Another excellent question,” Mr. Today said, smiling.

Alex waited, and when Mr. Today didn’t speak, he said, “Aw, another secret?” Alex grinned in spite of his disappointment. He was glad Mr. Today wasn’t mad at him for turning down the job. But now he wondered whom Mr. Today would choose instead’who would get to know the answers to these secrets? And he had to admit, the thought of one of his peers getting this information, getting to spend so much time learning from this most amazing person who created all of these incredible things, and who was getting ready to hand over the key to this world . . . well, that brought the slightest twinge of jealousy to Alex’s heart. Like maybe he was missing out on the greatest opportunity of his life.


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