The Tortus Bay Examiner
Important! Missing items and personages of great value! Have you seen:
- Clair Knoss;
- Mathas Bernard (dead or alive or both);
- A locket inscribed with the name of Emmaline Cass; or
- The skeletal remains of Emmaline Cass?
If so, please contact the staff of the Tortus Bay Examiner at the address listed below. All that is missing must be recovered before next week’s Golden Goose Fest! Why? Keep reading for details!
The front page of the Tortus Bay Examiner caused a ruckus when the first issue landed in the village. If Henry had thought that the initial wave of readers would be able to keep the paper under wraps, he had been mistaken. The street outside of the cafe once more exploded with people, a reformed A.M. Bazaar, and each and every one of them seemed somehow to have obtained a copy. They traded them back and forth, gossiped about who had said what, and lamented that every story got certain details just a little off.
Nobody needed to speculate at all about who the editor-in-chief might be. Everyone in the village knew that Henry had been collecting stories about Mathas, and this was the logical conclusion of that. Some of them were perturbed that no credit was given for their testimonies. Many more were relieved. In the back room of the Anderson warehouse, the editorial staff was already working on their next project.
“As long as we don’t slip up,” Aria said, “Leia won’t be able to track anything back here. It’s one thing to know who’s responsible; it’s another to be able to prove it.”
Kara smiled. “And our sheriff doesn’t have a good track record with finding evidence..”
“Is the printer ready to go with what we have for the next issue?” Henry asked. He held a half-drained coffee mug in his hand. The morning was young, yet, but the day was long ahead.
Aria frowned. “Yes. They’re waiting on the word. But are we really going forward with that?”
“Only if we don’t find anything today. People deserve to know what could happen on the festival day if we don’t find Emmaline or her locket.”
“And if you find what you need?”
“Then they need to know what it was. We write a new article.”
“You write a new article,” Aria corrected. “I will continue maintaining our front, so that our printers do not become aware that we are running a clandestine operation.”
Henry and Kara spent the entirety of what turned out to be an unseasonably sunny day out in the woods. He let her hold the leather strip with which they were trying to track Clair, on the basis that perhaps her connection to that type of magic would help their chances. They had run out of all other ideas. “There’s nothing more to do than walk,” he said. They went deeper into the trees than they ever had before, and were having a difficult time keeping track of what ground they had covered already.
“Walking I’m fine with,” Kara said. She held the strange, hopefully unique, symbol above her head as though it were a treat, and it was a lost dog they were seeking. “What I need is for us to talk about something less depressing than the impending destruction of my home while we do it. It’s still early. I’m not up to doom and gloom yet.”
“What did you have in mind?”
A wicked grin lit her face. “You went to visit Lucy Brihte with Niles the other night. So… you’re seeing Niles again.”
Dense vines and thorny bushes slowed their progress, compounding and multiplying the further they pushed into the woods. They were often thrown off course by ditches, muddy cricks, and the rotting trunks of fallen trees. Henry had a compass, so as not to get lost, but he wished with every step that they had someone along who knew even the first thing about what they were attempting to do. “I like working with Niles,” he said. “I like talking to him. I like seeing him.”
“Statements as true as they are short, and evasive.”
“He wants something casual. He’s not ready for a commitment.”
Kara yelped, yanking her foot free from a bush she’d just attempted to step through. “Thorns,” she said. “Stay away from that one. So what, you’re looking to marry?”
“I’m looking to date. I don’t need another relationship where I give one hundred and twenty percent effort, and my partner gives ten.”
“I see.” She fell back to walk beside him. Her pants were torn at the calf. “It’s smart, to examine old relationships and watch out for toxic patterns in the future. A lot of folk don’t do that.”
He eyed her. “Is there a ‘but’ to that statement?”
“No. Full stop,” she said. “You know, I’ve only ever dated one person in my time in Tortus Bay. Devin Yerie. He was tall, rugged, and a little too clever for my taste. Worked down in the orchard. Still does, as far as I know. He doesn’t come into the village very often, but you might have seen him once or twice.”
Henry shook his head. “I’ve never heard you talk about this before. I assumed you were…”
“I’m not uninterested. At least, I tell myself I’m not. But I suppose if you’re not interested enough to make time for it, then what’s the difference? I have a full life here. And when I first arrived, I’d just discovered that the lousy little craft projects I’d been doing my whole life suddenly held magical power. It was insane. It was all-consuming. Devin wanted a little piece of my time. He got upset when I forgot about our plans. I was certain that he was about to demand that I give up what I cared about to be with him. So I didn’t give him the chance. I ended it right then and there.”
Henry chewed on that story, while they explored. It was a nicer thing to ponder by far than what he was currently doing, but it filled him with no less hopelessness. The sun crested above them. They stopped to eat a lunch of beef jerky and apples, and shortly continued walking. The sun began its slow decline. Their emblazoned leather strip remained a leather strip. “Damn it,” Kara said, after clearing a bug-infested stump. “Check the compass.”
“I think we went in a circle.”
And so they had. At some point they had turned themselves around, and come back around to the edge of the village. Henry eyed the horizon. “We can do another loop.”
“It’s no use doing this at night,” Kara said. “It’s dangerous.”
“It’ll be dangerous to let whatever is going to happen -” he fell silent. Suddenly the silent trees around them were filled with noise. Dozens of pairs of feet, running in dozens of different directions. Scattering. “What the hell is that?”
“One of them’s coming this way.”
He didn’t know whether to run or to hide. In the end, he didn’t get the chance to make the decision. Tod burst through the undergrowth, belly swinging and mustache bristling, and barrelled straight in their direcion. His face was red. His eyes were wide. “Wolves!” he cried, already streaking past them in a khaki blur. “Wolves! Run!”
All that happened next was a confused blur of motion and sound. Henry ran, trying to follow Kara, but that immediately proved fruitless. A good number of the TBHWAS had followed Tod, and were now streaming through the forest in the opposite direction, screaming about wolves or else screaming just to scream. He ricocheted off of them, bouncing between bodies and vines and trees, terribly aware that whatever had set them off wasn’t entirely hysteria.
There were thin yellow eyes in the forest again, now accompanied by slobbering maws and the low thrum of howls. The wolves panted. They circled. They ran alongside the fleeing mass. But they did not emerge from the darkness.
One of them darted behind him, keeping apace with bounding leaps and then sinking into the underbrush, threatening to pounce. Whenever he turned to follow a fleeing figure, the wolf was already there. Blocking the path with a snarl. Henry slowed to a jog, then stopped altogether. The instant he stopped moving, his pursuer vanished into the forest.
A stitch cried out in his side, and his shoulder throbbed painfully from where he had knocked it against a tree. All was still and silent around him. In the distance he could still hear muffled footsteps, but he guessed that most of the club must have made it back to the village. They weren’t that far away to begin with.
He stood there a moment, to catch his breath. Then he straightened. “Kara!” he bellowed. “Kara, where did you go?”
At the sound of his voice, the eyes in the trees reappeared. They fixed him a terrible glower. The wolf’s body tensed, and lowered – ready to strike.
“Kara! I’m here!” he continued. The wolf stared, unmoving. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
Nobody, human or animal, answered his call. And in the confusion, he had become lost again. So he took his eyes off the forest lurker to grab his compass, but as he did his fingers brushed against the leather strip beside it. It was warm.
The symbol gently pulsed against his skin, and let off mild heat. Henry gripped it in his hand, all thoughts of anything else temporarily forgotten, and took a step to the left. The pulsing stopped, and the leather grew colder. He stepped back, and went instead to the right. Again, nothing. When he moved forward, the heat intensified. It beat like a heart in his palm.
In that maddening fashion he walked like a blind man through the trees, until after many careful steps the leather boiled in his hand and vibrated so hard that he thought his whole arm might shake off. Still he saw nothing.
“Henry?” The voice came from up in the canopy. He craned his neck, but there was only green. Then, something rustled the leaves, and Clair’s face poked through. She looked down at him with some combination of relief and incredulity. “Is that really you?” she asked.
She frowned. “If you’re a wolf you have to tell me, okay? I swear if you’re a wolf under that skin I’m never going to come down again.”