“Do you remember the stories I told you, the stories about the old days?” Sucora Cloud sat against the edge of her desk. “For a hundred lifetimes, the Nimauk lived in harmony with the world. We knew the power of water and stone. The power of the world is real, more real than we ever knew.”
Enoa sat on the Aesir’s couch. Her attention didn’t wander from the screen, hanging against the cabinet. Orson heard another, slight noise at his side. He found it coming from his transceiver, still tuned into the Liberty Corps chatter.
He knew he should insist Enoa shut off the video and fly back to the hilltop, but he hesitated. Enoa needed answers. She needed something after the day and night she’d had.
“I’m really sorry, but they’re going to start any second now.” Orson walked to the projector. “We have to move. We can’t be here when they find the tunnel to the mausoleum.” Orson hoped he wouldn’t have to shut off the video, that Enoa would make that choice for him, but she just nodded. He found the off switch and flipped it. The image disappeared and the light went out.
Orson was relieved when Enoa stood to help him secure the film screen and projector. He didn’t need the help, but he likely would need her cooperation to resolve the situation in town. He didn’t know how she was coping with the loss of her home. He hadn’t responded well when his own life had forever lost its normalcy, all those years ago.
But she helped him secure everything and quietly joined him in the front of the cabin while Orson flew them back up to the hilltop.
Even after they’d landed, Enoa did not move from the passenger seat.
“I don’t know if I can do this right now,” she said. “Tonight just…” She took in a harsh, long breath. “It’s just been way too much.”
“That’s up to you.” Orson looked out the Aesir’s windshield toward the valley. Unlike when they’d spotted the fire, the town was entirely dark, except a slight glow from High Street – probably the Liberty Corps vehicle lights surrounding the remains of Enoa’s shop. Even streetlights could not be seen. Orson wondered if the town’s lights were shut off after a certain time, to save power for the isolated local grid, or if something else strange was afoot. “I think there’s every chance that there is something in the films that explains all this, but you’ve been through more than you deserve, and I can watch alone.”
“No.” She unbuckled her seatbelt and stood. “I might as well face it all now. It will be good to get it over with.”
“Rip off the band-aid.” He stood as well. Together they retrieved and reset the projector and screen. They started the film, once again, and took seats facing it.
“The old days ended a little over seventy years ago,” Sucora said, speaking from the past, recorded months ago. “In nineteen forty-six, an organization called the International Hierarchia Statute Association catalogued every verifiable occurrence of unexplained phenomenon or power on this Earth. They believed there was a unifying truth behind the world’s theologies and traditions. They believed if they learned the unifying explanation of magic, they could wield that power too. The Nimauk have no tradition of sorcery, you know that, but the IHSA insisted on studying our stories and our secrets. The International Hierarchia wanted to combine the old world and the new, but instead every world was broken. I have no doubt they were the cause of the Thunderworks attacks and everything else that went so wrong, so awfully wrong, these last few years.”
Sucora rubbed at her temples with her fingers, her eyes closed, her forehead creased with lines of worry.
“I joined them, Enoa. I joined those people, the Hierarchia, as part of a program called the Project Dreamthought. They wanted to discover if our people could learn to wield the power the Hierarchia sought, and we can’t. There is no correlation between ethnicity and aptitude for the concepts they studied, but I did find that power. I stayed until I did. I used to tell myself I could help our people. This was not a power from Nimauk. This was no forbidden knowledge, so there was nothing wrong with me learning it, so long as I still respected the world I studied. I worked hard for those abilities, but through me the IHSA learned too much. I broke so many natural laws, of all kinds.” She took a deep breath and bit her lip. She took another deep breath and another and another, obviously struggling to breathe. “But I learned to wield the power of the world. I can speak to wind and water. I’m a Shaper, and I want you to learn this power too.”
“No.” Enoa shook her head. She stood up and shut off the projector. The image momentarily froze on Sucora’s troubled face, before going dark. “The Hierarchia, they… They were the ones who destroyed the world.” She rounded on Orson. “They were the ones you were talking about. You fought them! Why would she be one of them?”
Orson didn’t answer her. He didn’t speak. He didn’t know this young woman well enough to know what she needed to hear. She was not in a place where she wanted facts or truth. She wanted comfort.
“Why?” She said this more to herself than to him. Then she began to pace, back and forth, walking between the couch and the chairs. “I didn’t know her. She raised me, and I didn’t know her.”
“They weren’t always what they became at the end.” Orson didn’t look at her. He knew he might regret speaking at all, but he had to get her through this film.
“What does that mean?” She stopped pacing. “You don’t just go from a decent organization to one that would cause global chaos. And what right did they have to study my people or anyone’s people? This isn’t a comic book novelty. This is religion.”
“They started genuinely trying to learn,” Orson answered. “After World War Two, they needed to figure out what was out in the world. Imagine being a world leader, after the atom bomb, knowing that there could be global powers who are wielding both nuclear power and magic? Freaking magic! Seriously,” he sighed. “The Hierarchia destroyed my life. They made my world go nuts before everything else went to shit, but I don’t blame them for starting the program.”
“But they were totally secret.” Enoa shook her head. “They were classified, right, doing ESP experiments and dealing with UFOs and stuff, back in the 80s and 90s? Who would join that?”
“Yeah, the secrecy is bullshit,” Orson said. “Although, I think it was actually surprisingly decent of them to recruit your aunt. The International Hierarchia I knew never would have given her a choice. And the closer it got to these dark times, they would have kidnapped her or tried to kill her. She was a member, was, just like some other folks I know. She’ll explain herself, I think, if we keep watching. I think she’s going to explain where the treasure is and why it isn’t here.”
“I can’t imagine an explanation to justify what she did,” Enoa said. “These are like the people that sent the Nimauk away, that destroyed the culture of so many of us. I’m sorry about your troubles, Orson, but you can never understand.”
“I’m sure I can’t.” Orson nodded. “But if we want to help this town and the community you have right here, I think we have to watch…”
“I don’t know if I can face the rest of it now.” Enoa sat back down. “It’s too recent. It’s barely over six months she’s gone.”
“I’m so sorry,” Orson said. “I understand if you can’t look at this, but it has to be pushing five in the morning. We only have, uh, I only have hours to figure this thing out.”
“We.” Enoa shook her head. She pursed her lips and moved her shoulders using the same mannerisms her aunt showed on the film. “I’ll just have to face it.” She said no more, stood, and restarted the projector.
“I hope I was brave enough to tell you in person, Enoa.” Sucora Cloud reappeared on the screen. “I hope I did. I hope you found this tape after I left you, years later, after you know yourself fully, as a real adult. I hope you see this when you own your truth, and it can’t hurt you. But I don’t think I’ll have the strength to tell you. I don’t think I can face alienating you now. I might never have a chance to make things right, not with the cancer…”
The screen went bright white. The projector let out a harsh crack. Orson and Enoa both jumped in surprise.
The screen resolved back on the face of Sucora Cloud. She looked thinner, both tired and frightened. There were heavy purple bags under her wide eyes. She adjusted the camera view before walking back toward her desk.
“This is now August second. I’m sorry if the edit was rough. There’s not much time. As you read in the letter, I knew there would be people hunting for my knowledge, but I learned today their forces might already be in Nimauk. I have done my best to hide these records. My best won’t be good enough forever.”
“What letter?” Enoa yelled at the screen.
Sucora coughed, only twice, but her breathing was ragged. Orson heard the change in her voice. She sounded different enough from the previous segment, hoarse and scratchy. She wheezed, laboring for every breath. She looked like she didn’t have much time.
“With your will, I’m sure you can learn the same power that I found, if you want it…”
“I think I’d know if I could have superpowers,” Enoa said. “You should have been brave enough to tell me.” Orson couldn’t hear what Sucora said. He missed a few words, maybe a sentence.
“…friends in the program, we realized the IHSA was trying to use our research to experiment on people, experiment on children.” Even in her harried state, she still stopped speaking. She pressed her hand to her forehead, searching for words, fighting with guilt? “The Hierarchia wanted the ability to teach anyone. They wanted the greatest warriors in the world. Our results weren’t good enough, so they started manipulating a manmade metal isotope, Cobalt Nine. They tried to force children to learn to wield this metal. They injected them with concentrated doses of the isotope. I have reason to believe that one of these children, now an adult and a fully trained Shaper, is operating in Nimauk. It could be anyone in town.”
“Wouldn’t she know if some government man rolled into town?” Orson asked.
“I don’t think this operative cares about me at all,” Sucora said. “They’re likely after what my friends and I stole from the Hierarchia before we fled – a trove of artifacts we called the Dreamside Road.”
Sucora coughed again, several times, horrible hacking coughs that almost shook her off her feet.
“Just like you thought.” Enoa glanced at Orson. He nodded.
“We didn’t know that the Hierarchia ever managed to teach one of those poor children to wield the Cobalt Nine,” Sucora said. “We rescued all of them that we could. We thought that program ended, but today I sensed a power. Cobalt Nine is hard to track and hard to pierce with sonar and radar. I laced the bricks with it.” She waved to the walls of the hidden library. Then she reached to her collar and drew out the necklace Enoa had recovered in that very room. “The keys to the trove were partly made out of it. But the Dreamside Road was never here. I never knew where it was hidden. I wanted to go home. I wanted out.”
“But today I sensed a mind trying to activate the Cobalt Nine, like they had those poor kids do in their experiments,” Sucora said. “The person was trying to find this place. They must believe the hidden trove is here. By this point, you should be all packed and ready to go, and you must not delay any longer. I’m so sorry, but you won’t need to abandon the shop forever.”
“Abandon my…” Enoa stood.
“Wait.” Orson ran to the projector and shut off the film. “She wanted you to leave?”
“I didn’t know anything about this,” Enoa said. “Maybe she planned to say something, but she… She started hemorrhaging that night. The cancer had moved to her liver, and she could barely speak. She only…” Enoa fought with the lump in her throat. “She only lived another six days.”
Orson had further questions, but he started the film again.
The elder Cloud reached into her pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it and revealed a map of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
“There is an island, hidden at the International Dateline.” She tapped a small point on the map. “I hand wrote my welcome code on the back page. It should get you past their defenses. I’m sorry I had to make it so covert, but I can’t give away its location. All of the people we rescued from the IHSA, those poor kids… We sent the refugees there to hide. They’re under the protection of my friend, Merritt Lucas. He is a great Shaper and a trained knight.”
Sucora stood from the desk. She walked toward the camera until the screen went dark from her closeness. When she stepped away again, the camera was aimed at the rows of shelves and stored film canisters.
“Enoa, I want you to learn the power I had. Some of these films are logs from my time in the Dreamthought Project.” She pointed to one of the shelves. “The rest are a series of training videos I made for you. It’s my life’s work and if you choose to learn, it will be my penance. I’ve tried, all your life, to teach you what wisdom I’ve learned and give you a strong mental and spiritual foundation for this path, if you choose it. With your incredible heart, you can be what I never was.” She smiled into the camera. “Then, when you find your way to the Hidden Island, Merritt will complete your training.”
“I don’t want to make knives or stupid metal things,” Enoa said.
“I doubt all they studied was iron,” Orson said. “I’ve heard of this stuff before. I think iron is just one discipline among many.”
“If you don’t want to learn, be safe,” Sucora’s recording continued. “Please wait on the Hidden Island until things blow over, and do me one last favor. Deliver these films there, as well. Don’t worry, since everything’s gotten more difficult, I’m sending my friend, Archie, to guide you there. Archie Grant lives three hours from here, in the Poconos. He was a member of our project, as well. If you haven’t followed my instructions and gotten in touch with him, please do so.”
Sucora drew another item from her pocket. She held it, a picture, up to the camera. It showed an old smiling man, white haired and bearded.
“That’s the man from the train!” Enoa jumped to her feet. “Her whole plan failed. The Liberty Corps got him.”
“Archie will see you safely to the island.” Sucora’s image kept right on talking. “Make sure he goes straight there. Don’t let him dawdle.” She coughed. “Oh and if, for whatever reason, if Archie doesn’t hear from you or if he hears anything suspicious from Nimauk, he will get in touch. Maybe he already has when you watch this.” Sucora waved at the screen. “Hi, old friend. Thank you so much.”
“They killed him because of me.” Enoa pressed her hand to her face. “All because of me.”
“Whatever you choose.” Sucora smiled again. “I’m sure it will be right. I love you so much, Enoa. You have a great beautiful life ahead of you, I know it. I didn’t believe in fate or destiny. I ignored those parts of our cultural story, but I can see your legend. I can feel it. Unless it’s just the meds.” She laughed. “I’m so sorry everything happened like this. I’m so sorry I had to give the whole bad, complicated truth to you at once. It’s so wrong. You deserve so much better, but I know you are strong enough to be safe and to be well and to thrive in this new strange world.”
Sucora offered another wave. “Lapich Knewel. Until we meet again, kiddo. When you speak to the Earth, remember I’m still part of the world, and I’ll be waiting to answer your call.”
The screen went immediately dark. The film ended. The light projected a blank whiteness onto the screen until Enoa stood and shut it off.
She sat back down and said nothing. She went very still. She meditated on something, some brooding thought. Orson knew he couldn’t leave her in the dark silence. They had too much to do.
“I bet the magic guy, the one with the Cobalt, activated the metal.” Orson ran to his Thousand-Point Compass. “The top point must detect that Cobalt Nine. If the Shaper did something to find it, he might have made it come alive. That’s what brought me here.” Orson fit the top level back onto the Compass. “Didn’t your aunt leave you a letter? She mentioned one, but you seemed confused by that.”
“I got a letter.” She didn’t look at him. “It was with her will, but… The cancer moved so quickly, and I just couldn’t face it. I didn’t read it. I left it there, in the office, in the envelope with the will. I was hoping she meant a different letter, not that one, because now I don’t think I’ll ever read it.”
“Oh.” Orson said. “So those papers were still in the office, when…”
He did not finish the sentence. Enoa did not respond.
* * *
“Stay where you are, Captain Maros.” Webster kept her pistol aimed at Tucker. “Councilman, I’m going to need you to step away from the holding cell and put your hands on your head.”
Councilman Tucker did not do as she instructed. Instead, he turned to face her. Normally, in this situation, Webster would have delivered a second warning. Then, if Tucker proceeded with his eerie unlawful behavior, she would be forced to escalate.
Sheriff Webster did not do what she normally would. She was distracted by the sudden bizarre flashing light, blue and then red and then blue, glowing out through the buttoned sleeves of the Councilman’s shirt.
Then Tucker moved.
Webster didn’t see Tucker throw the piece of metal. She didn’t see the projectile at all. She wasn’t aware of it from sight or sound until it struck her, hit her hand at over sixty kilometers an hour, breaking at least three bones. The sickening snap – she heard that sound.
All she’d seen was that flashing light, blue then red, from Tucker’s sleeve. He moved so quickly she only processed it the same instant she heard the brief whistling sound, the noise the flying projectile had caused. Then the metal struck her. Then her bones broke. The sudden pain made her fingers lose their grip. Her sidearm fell from her broken hand and clattered uselessly to the floor.
Webster cried out. It happened too fast for her to stay silent. She shouted and stumbled away, blinded by the agony in her hand. She fell back against the doorframe, so stunned she couldn’t even question it.
“I’m really sorry, Kelly.” Tucker spoke in his normal cheerful boyish tone. He didn’t sound angry. He didn’t sound sinister. “I’m afraid the current situation in town is rather complicated. You’re out of your depth, but don’t worry. Once I’ve taken care of my business here, I’ll see to it that your hand is treated and you sit out the rest of tonight’s festivities in comfort. How does that sound?”
Webster clutched at her right hand, so agonizing she winced from her own touch. But even through the pain, she saw Tucker raise his hands. She saw the blue and red light a second time. Then she saw the blur of metal fly past her. She didn’t know how it happened. She didn’t know why, but the thick projectile he’d sent at her, rose from the floor, as if held by an invisible hand. Tucker called the metal back. The metal did as it was told. It returned to him, to his hand. He tucked it away in his pocket.
“I’m very sorry it had to happen this way.” Tucker walked toward her, both hands outstretched. The Sheriff backed away. She took three seconds to consider her options. She didn’t know enough to apprehend Tucker. She could not allow herself to be captured.
Escape. Yes, that was the only way, her only chance. She needed information before she could unravel this mystery. Escape was her only hope for that.
Webster had never been an actor. Her business was the truth, always, but it didn’t take much effort to look afraid. She was.
She let her fearful eyes wander the room. She saw Captain Maros had stayed in his cell. She saw that the other man, Lieutenant Goes, wasn’t looking at her. He was staring at nothing, apparently bored. Tucker took another step toward her.
Webster didn’t know what had struck her, how Tucker had attacked her, but she did know that the Councilman was still flesh and blood. He was human, no more than human, no matter what he could do.
When he got close enough, the Sheriff fought through her pain. She lifted her foot and slammed the heavy heel of her right work boot into the instep of Tucker’s foot.
It was Tucker’s turn to wince and yell. Webster saw the flash of red and blue, but before he showcased any more of his odd skills, she staggered back into the hallway and pelted along the corridor, toward the AV room, toward Deputy Nesta and toward escape.
What would happen next, she couldn’t imagine. Tucker had changed everything. Who was he? How could he do what he did? He was something beyond her ability to fight and out of her control.
Tucker was magic. He had a power out of the old folk tales she’d done her best to ignore. She’d never believed in such things.
But believe it or not, that power was real. And from the sound of the well-polished loafers on the tile floor, Webster knew Tucker and his real power had exited the holding block. He was walking down the hallway toward her.