Isha was sitting silently next to Gideon when Whisper approached them, their expression soft. It might have made Gideon frustrated before, unwarranted sympathy, but he was too tired to feel much of anything.
They hadn’t done anything to get any closer to saving Carter. They’d been sitting around, because Whisper had to separate them until they had all stopped shouting at each other “like children”. In that time, the anger had settled and dissolved in Gideon’s stomach. Everything he was feeling when they returned to Whisper had, and now he felt numb, but at least he wasn’t trembling any more, and he didn’t feel sick.
He knew he should feel frustrated, be more desperate to get Carter back. It was clouding his mind and anything else he tried to work through was immediately wrapped in the haze of it. But he didn’t.
Gideon allowed Whisper to nudge him and Isha back over to where Shiloh and Finn were sitting on their own respective logs. Isha tugged Gideon to sit beside her on a rock, which Gideon granted her even though he felt more like pacing than sitting any longer.
“Understandably, our most pressing concern is getting Carter back to safety,” Whisper said, their voice soothing and gentle. Their tone, however, suggested was more to this that would contradict this point. And sure enough: “But there are some other matters that must be addressed as well.”
Shiloh glanced downwards to her lap, where her hands were folded. Her shoulders were tight, but her breathing was even, and she looked the kind of neutral Gideon was used to after all of their arguments, after Isha had talked them both down. Shiloh didn’t like to admit she was wrong – probably, Gideon thought bitterly, because she knew Carter would never contradict her – but she was willing enough to at least apologise.
And while Gideon didn’t care so much about being right or wrong, he was stubborn. Isha was one of the only people with enough sway over him to convince him to apologise. It was ironic, in some ways, because it had been her mother that taught Gideon never to apologise – which was immensely confusing because Adrienne forced him to apologise to her or Isha’s mother whenever he failed.
Apologies, in other words, were foreign to him.
“I think I unlocked magic when I touched the relic,” Shiloh said finally. “I- I don’t know what I did, but after I touched it…” She glanced up and spread her hands out, shrugging. “When I woke up, the relic was gone though.” Shiloh sent Gideon a look. At least she didn’t seem mad at him anymore. “But I didn’t check for it thoroughly either. I had to pull Gideon out of the spring.”
Isha hit his knee and he could see her glare at him from the corner of his vision, but thankfully she refrained from saying anything. She was the only one who knew about his problem with water. Well, her and Carter now.
“That pool of the weird golden water?” Finn asked, and Gideon bristled at the sound of his voice. A smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth, an unfriendly one, the haughty kind he used when he was gearing up to provoke someone. “That wasn’t that deep. How do you always end up in situations where you need saving?”
Gideon grit his teeth together hard enough to make them creak and avoided Finn’s gaze. He wasn’t going to get into it right now. Not with Finn’s newfound joy in using Carter against him with Shiloh here.
Whisper cleared their throat pointedly. Gideon was grateful for them now more than ever, grateful that Carter had managed to convince him and Isha to let them come along. But the closer he looked, the more he realised that although they had a very mother-hen frown across their features, there was something more delicate. Worried.
They sighed and sat on the log beside Shiloh. “Carter’s going to be so disappointed in me,” they murmured, almost too quiet for Gideon to hear. Shiloh frowned, but Whisper straightened before she could ask questions. “You didn’t release magic, Shiloh, you couldn’t. I don’t know what that relic was, I’m admittedly concerned about what it did and what the earthquake we experienced was, but-” they paused to wince, “magic was never gone.”
There was a long silence. Gideon’s mind stalled for several moments before slowly sputtering back to life. In honesty, he wasn’t sure what Whisper meant by that, but they looked more stressed then Gideon had ever seen them, which spoke more about how serious it was than what they had said.
“You couldn’t have said that sooner?” Isha finally asked, scepticism painting her features. She looked pale in the night’s cold light, and her blonde hair dulled as if it had lost some of its shine.
“I-” Whisper looked at their hands. “I didn’t want to. If I had told anyone, it would have been Carter. I did tell him that, I mean, but not everything.” Koshar hopped onto their lap and started rubbing against their face as if attempting to calm them down. Whisper smiled, but it was hollow, as they reached up to rub his ears. “I was different. Nobody wanted to be around me and that’s what I thought I wanted. Midvale was busy but it didn’t garner a lot of attention. And then… Carter was the first person who was kind for the sake of being kind. Nervous, jittery, but kind. I wanted to tell him, but I could never work myself up to it. I tried to quiet his mind instead.”
The trees rustled around them, but for once, Gideon didn’t feel ready to jump at the slightest of noises around him. They were safe, if only for now, which was a dangerous mindset to get into, but the forest was more open. It meant they were more visible, but Gideon knew both Isha and Finn could pick someone out in the dark like owls if he didn’t. They could fend off an ambush if it came to that.
“Tell him what?” Shiloh asked. The gentleness in Shiloh’s tone suddenly struck Gideon like a needle to his heart. There it was- the softness, the desire to see the best in people and how it reflected in Shiloh’s personality. To everyone but Gideon. He knew it wasn’t unfounded but knowing didn’t dull the pain of envy.
Whisper didn’t respond. Instead, she stared at the ground intently as though it had personally wronged her for a moment.
And then several of the leaves started to float. Not a wind-caught float, they weren’t tumbling over the ground. They elevated straight upwards from the ground and then stayed there, hovering in the air.
Gideon jumped to his feet and Isha stiffened beside him. Finn stared at the leaves with a scrunched nose as though they smelled like curdled milk, and Shiloh’s mouth had fallen open, her eyes wide as she glanced between the leaves and Whisper.
“I can ‘nudge’ people’s moods too. And to some extent, I can hear their thoughts, but it’s grounded in what their feeling. I can’t hear them, I can feel them. That… doesn’t make sense.” Whisper buried their face in their hands and the leaves abruptly fell back to the ground as if they weighed as much as rocks. “I don’t even understand most of it.”
“And you never told Carter?” Shiloh asked, a hint of irritation colouring her tone finally. It doesn’t mean that what she said is the most alarming thing about what Whisper had just told them, but at least it meant that Gideon isn’t the only one Shiloh felt was deserving of her anger.
“Back up,” Finn said. He stood, like Gideon, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Forget whether they told Carter, they have magic. That seems more pressing.” Finn shot Shiloh a glare, which Shiloh narrowed her eyes at. For once. Gideon agreed with Finn. Silently.
“I didn’t owe you an explanation,” Whisper replied tersely, brow furrowing as they glanced up and let their hands fall over their knees. “Carter, yes, and Shiloh. But its still a part of me. I don’t have to tell anyone anything I don’t want to about myself.”
Shiloh’s eyes were still narrowed, and she continued to stare at Finn. “Who are you, anyway? Why are you here?”
Finn rolled his eyes and this time, he seemed less as though he was attempting to be antagonising and more annoyed. “The day I stop getting asked that question will be the day I can die happily. My name is Finn D’Aramitz, I got Gideon back to the group after they were ambushed and separated by the Fire Forgers, and I’m here because Carter asked me to stay.” He sat back down on his log. “And at this point, if any of you ask me to do something like offer a sacrifice to prove my loyalty, I’m not going to.”
“But that doesn’t explain why you’re here,” Shiloh said. She had her not-accusing accusing tone, and it must bother Finn as much as it bothered Gideon because he bristled.
“Why not? You’re all so paranoid of the coteries that I can’t just be here? I didn’t have anything to do, an odd group came through the Crossroads and got attacked, I helped out. Why do I have to prove myself?”
Gideon’s skin started to prickle as the tension escalated and he started to pace. This is useless, he wanted to shout. Wanted to shout at all of them, in fact. His mind was swimming and he felt dizzy, but he took a deep breath and waved his hand abruptly, cutting Shiloh off as she opened her mouth.
“Whisper apparently has magic, Shiloh did something with the relic Corin’s after and now it’s gone and she glows now, there was some kind of earthquake that made everything else glow, I’m starting to think that some of these things are connected, and none of it matters, because I don’t care what ‘pressing matters’ we have. As we can all only seem to mutually connect at one point and its Carter, maybe we should consider trying to get him back from the Dragon’s Associates instead of sitting around and chattering like fisherman’s wives.”
As he’d spoken, Gideon had grown more and more tense, his breathing growing more raggedly until he felt like he was steaming after a hard training session. He forced himself to take a breath and sit back beside Isha, however, and he could feel his cheeks burn at all the attention he’d drawn to himself.
“He’s right,” Isha said, and it’s gratifying to remember if no one else agreed with him, she did. “We need to decide what we’re going to do. We need to find out where they’re camping out and then get him out of there as soon as possible.”
She winced and Gideon could feel a sink in his gut. She had a plan, but it was dangerous. Or they wouldn’t like it. Probably both.
At least everyone had settled back. Whisper looked grateful, for several reasons Gideon would imagine, and absently stroked Koshar who purred loud enough for them all to hear him.
Finn rolled his shoulders and watched them begrudgingly. “Fine. You two know the scene the best. Any suggestions?” he asked.
There was a pause and in it, the rustling of the forest once again put Gideon on edge. The crinkle of the leaves as they were rustled by the breeze, the distant owl calls, the soft whistle of the wind. Isha sucked in a breath beside him and lifted her chin. There was a glint in her eye and she really did look like she could lead an army if she wanted to.
“One. The Dragon’s Associates have him, they’re in league with the Fire Forgers but they’re not going to give him over to them until they’re sure they have all the information first.” Isha glanced at Gideon, and he swore there was something apologetic in her eyes. And then she turned away. “That means I can cause enough commotion to distract them long enough for someone to slip in and grab Carter.”
It clicked and Gideon felt his stomach clench. “No,” he said immediately. “We just need to find them. Then someone can slip in and grab Carter and get out.” Gideon knew he was already putting himself in that someone’s role, and Shiloh probably won’t like that, but he’s the best choice and she’ll have to accept that.
“And what are the chances of getting caught if they don’t have something more pressing to attend to?” Isha asked, arching an eyebrow. “You know it would work.”
“What kind of distraction?” Shiloh asked, pulling them out of their staring contest. She watched Isha with apprehension, and Gideon knew that he could get Shiloh on his side for this. She wouldn’t let Isha go if she knew how risky it was for her, surely. Shiloh actually liked Isha.
“The kind where she gets herself caught,” Gideon replied. He turned back to Isha. “It doesn’t matter, your mother won’t buy it if you suddenly show up. She’ll know you’re up to something. She probably knows Carter was our companion, she’ll connect the dots.”
Isha shook her head. “Not if we get Carter out fast enough. And I won’t get caught, surely you know I’m better than that.” Then her expression grew more severe and she pursed her lips. “Gideon, we’ve been raised in the coteries. We’ve been broken and rebuilt before, we’ve been through the fire and we learned how to handle it. Carter hasn’t, it’ll destroy him.” When Gideon only tightened his jaw, she reached out to grip his arm. “They’ll want him to talk. They’ll ask Adrienne, you know that. You know what she’s like. He can’t survive that.”
He knew she was right. His stomach bubbled like acid and the side of his mouth ached. His hands had started trembling again without warrant and he let out a shuddering breath. He hadn’t wanted to think about Adrienne ever meeting Carter, but Isha had a point. He also knew she had said it to dig the knife in deeper, because that was a low blow and it hurt, but it made him shrink under her touch.
“I still don’t understand how Isha, no offense to your skills of distraction, is going to cause enough of a diversion to gather the attention of the whole coterie,” Finn said. “And why does it matter which coterie it is? Why does affect your skills of distraction?”
“No offense taken.” Isha shrugged, and then brought her knees up towards her chest. “And it affects it because Corin isn’t my father.”
They all exchange confused glances as Isha winced. Finn was, unsurprisingly, the first one it clicked with. He blinked, and then crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. “You’re Vasile’s daughter,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
Isha didn’t answer, but that, in itself, was answer enough.
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