2.02: Theories and Explanations

Henry slept for a long time, and while he slept he dreamed. He saw his mother’s face. His father’s. He ran through the streets of his old hometown until he road names all became unfamiliar and the buildings shrank to single-story boxes. Tortus Bay. He spun, swung, and raced back off in the opposite direction, but the village stretched on forever. The sidewalk stretched on forever.

And it had teeth. Long rows of razor sharp fangs, sprouting inward from the edges of the white cement. He leapt, landing on the black asphalt of the street—which squished under the weight of his feet. A tongue. He turned again, to sprint away, but it was too late. He fell weightless into the yawning maw.

Kara was there. She was telling him something important. Clair hovered above her. She was also telling him something important. Their voices overlapped, their words combining into nonsense. Magcedome. Trabay. Desope.

Then there was Niles, ducking into a doorway. Niles, stepping into an oven. Niles, climbing atop the Tortus Bay Inn with Jamal and Diana. Niles, standing at the end of the street. 

When Henry finally woke, he wasn’t sure if it was the gentle rapping on his bedroom door or the persistent twinge in his lower back which roused him. Regardless, he pulled himself out of bed and blearily answered the knocking. “You were just in my dream,” he said.

Kara’s eyebrows arched. “Impossible. I’ve been out here the entire time.”

“And I’m awake?”

She kicked him in the calf, and he jumped back with a yelp of pain. “Sorry, that’s the only thing that works. Trust me, I know. I also slept the entire day away.”

“Wait. The whole day?” He tripped his way over to the window and pulled back the blind to reveal the yellow light of dawn.

“And night.” She held up a greasy take-out bag. “Breakfast?”

***

He filled her in on everything that had happened over their well-deserved meal of beef tongue tacos and their subsequent walk across the village to the Inn. There, they collected everything that he owned (which amounted to two large armfuls), paid up with a grateful Diana, and offered their farewells to Jamal.

“I knew you were gonna stick around here,” the man said. He smiled. “Had that feeling from the first moment I laid eyes on you.”

“Thank you. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

Jamal winked. “You do like keeping your secrets though, don’t you?”

“You think I’m much more interesting of a person than I actually am.”

With the entire contents of room number 5 divided up between them, Henry and Kara trundled back toward his new apartment. There they returned to the matter at hand. “You’re sure you saw Mathas Bernard?” she asked, softly. A large number of people milled about the street.

“I’ve only ever seen him in a picture, but he was the spitting image. There’s no long-lost twin brother, is there?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Henry smiled at a throng of older women outside of the Double S, shrugging at his backpack to indicate that he was unable to stop and chat. “Is the other thing possible? Could he be… back?”

“I don’t know.” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t think so. But I couldn’t say for sure.”

“A deputy down at the station told me that you’re one of the most powerful in the village.”

Kara side-eyed him. “Taylor. He’s an alright guy, despite being a cop. Would turn the village into a coven, if he had the chance.”

“So why doesn’t he? What’s stopping him from throwing some sparkles in the air in front of all the people who don’t believe in magic, and giving them no other choice?”

They took a break in the entrance hallway, dropping their bags on the floor and leaning up against the stripped bare walls. Sleeping for a day and a half takes a surprising amount out of a person. “I have a theory. But everything from here on out is speculation,” she said. “Nobody knows exactly how it all works.”

“Theories are better than nothing at all.”

“The magic here selects people it wants to gift. Broadly, by drawing certain people to the village, and more specifically by imbuing certain individuals with more or less strength every month. I think on a similar level, the people who aren’t supposed to know aren’t able to know.”

“So something would miraculously stop me, if I wanted to walk up to the sheriff and dazzle her with a light display?”

“By all means, be my guest and try it out. That’s never how my magic has worked.”

Her explanation certainly made more sense than the deputy’s. “How did you figure all of that out?” he asked. “How long were you here before it started coming to you?”

“That’s hard to say. I’ve always been into the arts’n’craft bullshit. Been making little pendants and bracelets for people since I was a little kid. When I got here, I just continued to do what I’d always been doing. Eventually I realized that they were coming alive on the Festival days. Teresa helped me from there, with the specific iconography. With the intentionality.”

“Is she the person to go to, if I want to find out if I can do anything?”

Kara grinned. “She won’t turn you away, but there’s not a lot that she can do until you have something to go on. Something other than a persistent shoulder wound.”

Together, they made quick work of unpacking all of Henry’s belongings and splaying them out around his small attic room. The dresser, miniature as it was, held all of his clothes with room to spare. If it now looked occupied, then it was by the thinnest of margins.

“You need some decorations. This is sort of depressing.”

He surveyed the space. “I was never big on that sort of thing.”

“New place, new life.” She took a seat on the floor beside the mini fridge, popped it open, and tossed him a tall yellow can. “Cheers to the easiest move I’ve ever been a part of.”

“Cheers.”

Kara took a deep drink. “So, let’s assume for a moment that the man you saw in the park wasn’t a doppelganger or a twin.”

“Or an illusion, like the wolves.”

“Right. That would leave us with the real Mathas Bernard wandering around Tortus Bay.”

He sat on that. “Is it something that Clair did?” 

“Doesn’t feel right. She doesn’t have any love for Mathas. Or any Brihte, for that matter. And her magic… she’s been an angry person, for some time now. I’m not saying she doesn’t have that right, but on Festival days she tends more towards concentrated bursts. Like blowing out the wall in a jail cell.”

“He showed up right after the storm went away, and she was the only other person around at the time. Other than Emmaline Cass’ corpse.”

“That’s interesting, as well. All of this started because the locket was removed from Emmaline’s resting place.”

“Supposing it’s really her body. We didn’t exactly do any forensics.”

“We might know more about that soon enough. Somehow, word got out that our most famous founder might not be buried where we think she is. They’re set to exhume the grave, to quiet everyone down.”

“That seems fast.”

Kara chuckled. “Rumor is, sheriff Thao is beside herself. Not too happy about letting her prime suspect get away. And the eldest living descendant of Emmaline Cass, our Mayor, was happy to oblige. To help put things at ease.”

“I didn’t know Tortus Bay had a Mayor.”

She shrugged. “Noel Gauthe. It’s mostly a ceremonial position.” 

“Gauthe.” One of the two big family names in the village. “That does run deep. Who exactly was Emmaline Cass?”

“Alright, let me show you something.” She pulled herself onto her feet. “Feeling limber?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then pay close attention.” Kara slid open the window, and stuck her head out as if looking for something. She planted her feet on the sill, took hold of the overhanging eave, and hauled herself in one easy motion on top of the roof. Henry poked his head out after her, and she dropped a hand for him. “Thought you were supposed to be good at this.”

He took hold, gripping with his good arm. “Only got about one a year in me.”

She pulled him up, and they arranged themselves on the bleak, mossy grey tile. “It’s a good place to come, just to be. Not to mention the view.” They were facing the endless swell of trees outside of the village, rather than the ocean. She pointed. “Do you see that?”

Henry focused, and thought he might. There was something white, pointing up above the treeline, not too deep into the forest proper. “What is that?”

“Emmaline Cass’ headstone. Technically the tallest structure in the village. That’s the old graveyard. Strictly for the famous. If you or I die, our bodies will be shipped off to Yungton—mark my words.”

“Okay, I believe you: she was a big deal. What’s her story?”

“Apocryphal,” she said. “Or, hell, Tortus Bay being what it is, maybe not. They say she came along with the first families who settled the area. There were boom times then, in the beginning. The village was strategically located along the coast, and for a long while the soil remained fertile. Everything looked perfect.

“In time some nearby communities started to fail. There are ruins still, supposedly. Nobody thought much of it at the time. Founding a brand new settlement is hard, and some failures are expected. But with every one that winked out, the trek time from Tortus Bay back to civilization became that much more arduous. Maybe nobody was paying attention, or maybe they thought their own fortunes couldn’t be reversed. The village became stranded.

“And then, of course, their luck turned. Crops failed. A brutal winter made the waters impassable. Wolves pushed in from the surrounding woods. After months of hardship, even the steeliest of the bunch understood that there was nothing more to be done. But they also knew that they couldn’t get everyone back to the nearest settlement alive. So it goes that the leader made a choice, and announced to his people that only the strongest amongst them would make the trip.

“None of the children. None of the women. None of the sick, or the frail. Emmaline’s husband left her, as did her son. She cursed them for their cowardice all of the way out of the village.

“They suffered, those who were abandoned. They were left with little food, equipment, or defenses. Easy prey for the cold, and the wolves. Nobody knows how long they held out in that state, but in the end Emmaline snapped. She wouldn’t go out like that. It would be by her own terms. So she stripped herself of what little she had, said her final goodbyes, and walked one afternoon into the freezing ocean.

“That night the waves rolled back crimson, staining the beach all the way up to the doorstep of the nearest house with the color of her blood. The water warmed, and stayed warm for the rest of the winter. Fish returned. Wolves continued to roam around the village at night, but they no longer picked off stragglers. Instead, it is said that they left strips of fresh deer meat in the alleys.

“Tortus Bay recovered, and survived—and it was all thanks to the sacrifice of Emmaline Cass. Everything we have here is due to her.”

Henry leaned back, peering out at the exposed tip of the woman’s elaborate headstone. It was a good story. It was a somewhat familiar story. “If that’s true,” he said, “how do we have her body at all?”

Kara looked over at him. “You know, I never thought about that.”

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