Waves of shock and horror rippled through Henry’s body, compelling him away. There was no thought. There was no plan. He scrambled back out of the broken window, half fell and half slid down the crumbling lighthouse wall to the ground, and took off running toward the village. Blinding flashes of lightning lit his path. A deafening tattoo of thunder urged him forward.
The image was burned into his retinas, so that he saw it with every blink: dried blood on the walls, gleaming daggers on the floor, and those symbols inscribed in that ceremonial circle. He re-lived it every time his foot came down hard on the broken, muddy street. Rain soaked him through. He didn’t know where he was going. There was nowhere he wanted to be. Nobody that he wanted to see. He wanted to be alone. And that was something he could do.
Henry fumbled with the keys for a second in the downpour before he swung open the front door of the cherry-red house on Second Avenue. He emerged into the same skeleton of a building that it had been, but the portion that would be his apartment—the third story attic—was completely transformed. The floor was clear of clutter, the roof was sealed, and the walls had been scrubbed down and varnished. A bed sat in the corner, beneath the slope of the ceiling, and a small dresser stood beneath the circular window.
He stripped his clothes off, let them fall in a pile on the floor, and crawled into the sheets. Kara didn’t have to give him sheets. She didn’t have to do any of the things she had. Henry curled into a ball and tried to focus his thoughts on Kara, or the apartment, or Niles, or anything except what he knew was sitting back in the abandoned lighthouse. Rainwater soaked into the bed. He’d seen worse things. By far. Shouldn’t that have made him tougher? Didn’t the experiences of the past leave a callous?
Outside, the storm raged. Wind bent the trees and lightning lit the sky. As it passed midnight, the day of the Golden Gull Fest dawned. Henry had long since forgotten seeing a reminder for the festival on the cafe bulletin board. It hardly seemed important at the time. If anything changed about the village, it was a subtle thing. Perhaps the ferocity of the storm ebbed, by a fraction. Maybe the air cooled.
If he had managed to settle himself, he might have slept through the day and never known it to be different. Instead he tossed and turned, shivering, and sometime in the small hours of the morning rolled over to see Clair through the window.
Clair, through his third-story window, floating unsupported in the air.
Her face was placid. Determined. Then, almost curious. Her clothes blew back and forth in the wind, and her hair was plastered to her skull.
Henry was no stranger to nightmares. He was familiar with persisting dreams and night terrors. This was none of that. He was awake. Questions flooded his brain, but in entirely the wrong order. How did she find him? What did she want with him? Did she know what he’d seen? How did she get out of jail? How was she flying?
Clair was calm. She reached out to touch the glass of the window with two fingers, and the pane opened inward. With a smile she made to move forward into the room, but then stopped. She was repulsed, as though the window were still firmly shut. Her smile became a confused grimace, and she tried again—only to be rebuffed a second time. She opened her mouth to speak, plainly mouthing the words ‘what did you do?’ but no sound came out.
Kara’s protection charm burned against Henry’s chest. It seared into his skin. Clair’s silent speech morphed into silent screaming, her eyes pleading. He stood, legs shaking, and took a step toward the window. She flew back as he did, as though pushed by a giant hand.
“Did you kill him?” he asked. “I saw the lighthouse. After all of this, was it you?”
Another step, and she was forced further back. Her lips moved with desperate speed, but if her words made a sound then it was nothing to him. He strode to the edge of the window, naked save for the burning necklace, and she flew deep enough into the dark and the rain that he could no longer distinguish her form.
For a time he stared after her, into the night. His mind was clear.
Kara would know what was happening. She had to. And she had always been a friend. She would tell him what was happening, if he asked. She had to.
Henry raced through the deserted streets of Tortus Bay, wearing nothing but a sheet hastily wrapped around his shoulders, with the single-minded determination that he would find her at the Anderson Warehouse. As he ran he kept a wary eye to the sky, but nothing bothered him from above beside the storm clouds.
He knocked on the side door of the warehouse, and Kara answered it. She looked awful. The bags under her eyes from earlier in the night had stretched down through her cheeks, giving her entire face the impression of a bruise. Her hair hung in clumps. Her shoulders shook, and her knees knocked, with the apparent effort of opening the door. Everywhere her skin was paper-white and thin.
Every other question left his head. “Are you okay?”
“Get inside,” she croaked. She closed the door behind him, then leaned on it for support. “Are you naked?”
He glanced down at the thin, drenched sheet clinging to his body. “A lot has happened tonight.”
“Up top,” she said, “Ray keeps a spare set of-” and she collapsed, toppling over sideways.
Henry sprung forward, and caught her before she hit the floor. She felt light in his arms. “What happened to you?”
“Need to sit.”
He helped her onto the warehouse floor, and eased her into the nearest chair. “Is there anything I can get you?”
She shook her head, and reached out for the charm around his neck. “I thought you might try to find me tonight. This has been used, no?”
The necklace was still warm. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. Please know that I wanted to, as I’m sure Niles and Clair wanted as well, but… there are difficulties. Most of the people who come to this village only pass through. They leave, or are called away, well before the day of the festival.” Her voice grew weaker the longer she spoke, and her eyes drifted shut. “They never get to see what makes it special.”
He drew in a deep breath. “Magic is real here, isn’t it?”
“Is that what you need to hear? Magic is real everywhere; you should have learned that when you got that wound of yours. Once a month, for a single day, it becomes more powerful here. We call it the Golden Gull Festival. Before you ask: no, I don’t know why it’s called that; and no, I don’t know how it works. Only that it does.”
“So everyone in the village gets superpowers?”
“Not exactly. It comes to everybody differently. It doesn’t come to some people at all,” Kara said, finishing the sentiment with a hacking cough.
“Does it normally hit you this hard?”
She smiled, but her eyes remained closed. “I make charms. They do nothing, for the majority of the month. They’re only trinkets. Then on the day of the festival, every last one of them wakes up. All of that energy comes straight out of me.” She sighed. “I know that’s a lot to digest. It’s understandable if you need some time.”
It was a great deal, but somehow hearing Kara’s words made everything snap into place in Henry’s mind, and it wasn’t overwhelming. Frightening, and new, but no longer crushing like the weight of an old secret. “I didn’t suspect, when my wound wouldn’t heal,” he said, “but like you say, it should have been a clue. The thought started building in me, when I left my home. My trip wasn’t a straight shot to Tortus Bay. I had no idea a place called Tortus Bay existed. But everywhere I stayed, I never felt settled. There was always the voice inside of me, telling me to move on. Giving a direction, but never a destination.
“Even in Yungton, not too far from here, things weren’t right. The unease followed me, so much that I began to consider that it was just a new part of my personality. But I talked to people. Eventually one of them mentioned Tortus Bay, but even with the name this place is hard to find. Not on any maps, is it? After a while I found a taxi driver who thought he might know something, and was willing to take the chance. I knew I was home, the second I stepped out of his car. Even in the pouring rain.
“So yes, I needed to hear you say that magic is real—but I’ve known since I got here. And besides, I don’t know if I have a lot of time for processing. I think I might be caught up in something dangerous.”