Stars dotted the sky and the moon blanketed the Earth with its silvery glow. A cool breeze blew past me, making my clothes flutter. It also made me wince as it brushed past the burns on my back.
“Val, you’re awake!”
“Yeah,” I said. I tilted my head but didn’t get up. The night sky captivated my gaze and the smooth grass was too comfy to part with.
“Are you alright? Your back’s all burnt, and you were tossing and turning in your sleep,” said Ben. He was sitting against the rock with his legs outstretched.
“Just a nightmare,” I said. “I don’t even remember what it was about.”
“You shouldn’t let your back touch the ground.”
“Don’t worry about me. How’s your ankle?”
He put a hand on his leg. “It’ll heal.”
But it would take a while. Which meant we couldn’t move very far on our own. “Any idea where Elenor and the others could have gone?”
“A little. I found traces of them while we were running away.”
“Oh yeah, Jerome said you were a finder.”
“Not really, it’s just what I’m good at.”
“You don’t like being a finder?”
“No, I mean, it’s fine. I don’t mind. It’s just,” he said as he looked at his hands. “I’ve always wanted to be a fiddler; making things is so much more fun than finding them.”
“Can’t you do both?” I asked.
“I could, but then I wouldn’t be very good at either.”
I frowned. “Elenor said you were a good finder. All you have to do is learn how to make things, right? Can’t Jerome teach you that?”
Ben furrowed his brows. “That’s not the problem. I already know how to make stuff, I just can’t do it very well. Not unless I throw away my finding abilities.”
How could he throw away something he already had? “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
“I’ll have to burn them,” he said. “My books. Unburnt, they’re great for finding, but not so much for fiddling. I could change that if I burn them right but…”
“Then you wouldn’t be able to use them for finding, anymore,” I finished.
“Exactly.” He looked away.
I frowned. There was more to this than what he was willing to tell me. However, I decided not to push him on it. “Well, you haven’t burned them yet, so could you use them to find the others?”
He nodded. “I can try.”
As he said that, I focused intently on his face. After what happened at the wall, I thought I had a rudimentary understanding of how magic worked but I still wanted to confirm a few things.
His eyes stared blankly into the distance for a second, probably from having accessed his shelf. Next his posture shifted and his eyes darted swiftly in various directions. He focused on the foot of the hill and closed his eyes. He raised a finger and began moving it in the air as if he was tracing a route on a map. He opened his eyes and pointed back in the direction from where we had come.
“You mean they’re still in the city?” I asked.
“No, I said I found traces of them while we were running away, didn’t I? They definitely left the city, and I’m fairly certain they used the same exit we did.”
“But we didn’t run into each other?”
“They left after we did. Probably an hour or two later.”
“What?” I said. “How do you know that?”
“It’s simple, really. Since we couldn’t find them at the store and they weren’t at the inn, they must have gotten caught up in an incident. By the time they were done, we were in the Collar’s district, or at least at the wall.”
“Couldn’t they have gone looking for us at the market?”
That’s what I had assumed when we couldn’t find them. A comical error where we both went searching for each other but ended up where the other had started.
“No, they have Ms. Cramer. They wouldn’t just assume we were still at the marketplace, instead, Ms. Cramer would have searched for us with her magic.”
Of course! That made a lot more sense.
“But wait,” I said. “Why didn’t you find them with your magic while we were in the city?”
“My magic doesn’t work that way. Ms. Cramer’s magic works as far as she can hear, and it is a lot more effective than mine. All I can do is look for clues, and use them to answer questions and solve problems.”
“I see.” His was like a detective skill, while Elenor’s was like echolocation.
“Which is why all we need to do now, is wait,” he said.
“Yes, wait. Ms. Cramer should fine us soon enough.”
“You have a lot of confidence in Elenor. Did you know her before we met in Sett?” I eyed the red-haired boy sitting by the rock.
“No, but how could I not have confidence in her? She’s the Broken Witch’s apprentice! I mean, that’s why I had so much confidence in you, after all. Even though you were doing something absolutely crazy!”
I blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Well if you weren’t the Broken Witch’s apprentice, I would have never followed you into a burning building after you’d been blazing magic for so long. That was so risky, burning your book to make sure we got out safely. My heart was in my throat the whole time!”
“Yeah,” I said halfheartedly while I considered what I had just learned. It made a couple of questions come to mind.
Why had Elenor told him I was Moxy’s apprentice, and what was that about burning books?
“You recovered so quickly too,” he continued. “Master said it usually takes people a long time to recover from burning a book, especially if it’s a powerful one like yours. Oh, I know!”
I had shifted my gaze to the stars while wondering about what Ben had said but now I brought it back.
“Why don’t you test your new burnt magic while we wait?” said Ben.
I got up to look at him.
“Only if you want to, of course,” he said, quickly. “I understand if you want to keep it a secret.”
“No,” I said. “It’s just…”
He waited for me to continue but I didn’t. Honestly, my understanding of magic was still pretty slim, and I had no idea how to use this new burnt power he was talking about.
“Master said you can use burnt magic just like regular magic. Just grab the burnt book from your shelf and the rest should come to you naturally,” said Ben, as if he’d read my thoughts.
He was probably still using his detective magic, so maybe he was kind of reading my thoughts. “I’ll try.”
I pictured my shelf in the back of my mind, however, I couldn’t find any burnt books. It was the same familiar mahogany shelf floating in an awkward part of my vision, with a large green tome and a smaller leather book standing on top of it.
“Huh,” I said. “Guess I didn’t burn it after all.”
“Really?” asked Ben, his eyes widening. “But you were using it for so long. Was it a large book?”
I shook my head. “No, it wasn’t. I guess I must have stopped at the last moment.”
“That’s pretty impressive. Just what you’d expect from the Broken Witch’s apprentice.”
That title didn’t seem very flattering to me, but I didn’t rebuke him. Elenor probably had a reason for associating me with Moxy, and I had a hunch what it was.
“Is there a way we could help Elenor find us without giving ourselves away to the guards?” I asked.
“Yes, we can do this.” Ben snapped his fingers.
And so, we waited by a moonlit stone on a grassy hill under the stars while snapping our fingers.