The truth hung heavy around Henry’s neck. He related his dream to Niles—so vivid in his mind that it felt like recalling memory—but the man didn’t seem interested in talking about it. All he wanted to discuss was their plans for the next festival: healing Henry’s shoulder, maybe taking a look at the tortoises down by the shore, and so on and so forth. So he sat inside, curled alone in bed, and quietly dreaded the passing of time. He often found himself wishing that he had not learned the plan. Never tempted the dreams. He devised fantastical scenarios in which he might have walked blindly into his fate, and given Emmaline what she desired without becoming intimate with the strife of choice.
One morning he woke to an unexpected commotion in the living room. He turned over. The alarm clock flashed one in the afternoon. Squeaking and scraping, the noise picked up. Was Niles moving furniture around? Were those voices?
He stepped out a dishevelled mess, and was met with a collection of sombre faces. Niles, seemingly caught somewhere between anxiety and embarrassment, stepped forward. “I love you, Henry,” he said. “You haven’t been yourself lately. I know it’s difficult to talk about, but from what I’ve heard, the pieces aren’t hard to put together. We’re all here because we’re worried about you. Please, tell us that you aren’t considering what we think you might be.”
Clair rolled her eyes. “Tell us you’re not about to kill yourself.”
Henry hovered in the doorway. “It’s not that simple.”
“Seems simple enough to me,” Clair said.
“This is why Emmaline called me here.”
“To what? Walk out into the ocean like she did?”
“That’s what she wants.”
“Does it seem like I give a fuck about that? Do you think any of us do?”
“If I don’t, the things that make Tortus Bay special will fade away. Her magic will leave. All of your magic will.”
Clair popped up off the couch. Niles laid a hand on her shoulder. “We thought that’s how you might feel,” he said. “We’re here—we’re all here—to explain what we think. Clair, tell him. Henry, no more talking. Just listen.”
“I haven’t known you very long,” she said. “None of us have, but in particular I spent a while hiding out in the woods. There are times that I’ve hated Tortus Bay. You know that. I’ve wanted to be able to leave with every ounce of my being, but that trade-off isn’t worth it. I would rather be stuck here forever than be anywhere else at your expense. And if you can’t see that, then you really are stupid.”
Aria stood up next. “I also haven’t known you for very long. For some of it, I think you might have hated me—and for good reason. I didn’t believe in you. I thought you were another wash-out who wandered into our village and would wander back out before anyone noticed your presence. But I was wrong. You’ve changed more about this village in the short months you’ve been here than it’s changed in all the time I’ve been alive. And for my money, all of it has been for the better. Now you want to die to preserve the status quo? What a waste.”
Lola and Sofia held hands. Only the elder sister spoke, staring determinedly down at the carpet. “Everyone else seems to be saying it, but I’m pretty sure I know you the least of everybody in this room. But I came, because I think you’re important. You’ve meant a lot to me, at least. Don’t do it, okay?”
Teresa placed a hand on her daughter’s head. “When I first met you, and saw that wound on your shoulder, I knew interesting times would be coming. I never could have guessed how interesting they would be. I built my life on this village’s magic. I’ve helped many, many people with it. But please understand that I did so because there was no other choice. You think that every time I treat a patient with a broken bone, or a chronic illness, I don’t wish I could send them to a hospital instead? If without your sacrifice the magic of Tortus Bay will fade, that will indeed be a loss. But as a healer, a friend, and a fellow human being, I need you to understand that the loss of a life is so much deeper.”
Jamal wrung his hands, and spoke softly. “I’m only your bartender. I never counted us as friends, exactly, though I know we’re close. Oh, you know I’m a busybody. Everybody says it, and that’s the truth. I figured out more about you than anybody else in this village before you even arrived, and I’ve kept that lead right up to today. When my bar collapsed, I ran for help—so I never saw what you did for Clint. But that’s not important, because your love for people is so clear that the blind could see it. You love life, no matter how gloomy you act. Which is why I don’t believe that you’ll do it. Just like I didn’t believe you’d stay away from Tortus Bay, remember? But in case you’re really thinking about it: don’t. It’s not you.”
Kara smiled at him, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. “What more needs to be said? You’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had, and the thought of losing you hurts. It hurts. We’ve lost a lot of people recently, and losing you would be too much. That might be selfish. I don’t care. Killing yourself is selfish, you know? And if you do, I would never forgive you. I love you.”
“And so do I,” Niles said. “I love you with all of my heart. I’m excited for our future together. A future that I never imagined before. We made a deal. Or did you already forget? You told me that you were ready to move beyond your past. This is wallowing.”
Silence lingered for a long moment, then Leia Thao stood from the corner of the room. “I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. More things than I’ve ever been right about. When we first met, I told you the only way to survive here was to get a job at the orchards, or the fishery, and blend in. You didn’t do any of that. What I think I really meant, though, was that you had to ingratiate yourself with this community. Back then, I thought I was the leader of that community. Now, I see that you were doing it all along.
“The decision is yours. That particular decision is always a personal one. But let me tell you that if you leave my sights tonight without making me believe that you don’t intend to go through with this idiocy, then I will hound you. You care about Emmaline’s legacy? Well, I care about my own. It will be mistakes and bodies. I’m not adding yours.”
Henry breathed. He tried to still himself, but his head spun like a marble in a bowl of jell-o. “You understand, then. You don’t want your legacy to be my death. That’s my responsibility. I don’t want my legacy to be the death of this village. I didn’t come here to tear everything down. This is something that I’ve always been trying to do. Don’t you see that? When I walked into the school, when I healed Clint, when I jumped into the middle of that pack of wolves… it’s the only thing I’m good at. It might be the only thing I have to give. And god, if I’d known this day would come I never would have talked to any of you, because this pain is unbearable.”
Long after the hullabaloo died down, Henry stood out in the lawn, leaning against the fence, looking out at nothing in particular. The chill in the air had become a freeze, and he was dressed in his ratty sleep-shirt, but he wasn’t going back inside until everyone else left. Their words left his forehead hot, and his thoughts no less muddled than they’d been before.
When he heard footsteps approaching, he assumed it was Niles bringing him a sweater. Or possibly Clair, to kick his ass. Teresa’s voice surprised him. “I hope we didn’t gang up too much.”
“You made yourselves clear.”
“But you knew all of that already, didn’t you?”
She leaned on the fence beside him, choosing her own indeterminate spot in the middle distance to gaze into. “Then let me fill you in on something new. When Niles told me about that dream of yours, and what he thought you took from it, it made me curious. I started playing around with some numbers. I told you that magic likes numbers, right? It waxes and wanes in patterns which might be hard to see in the moment, but which can be traced over large periods of time.”
“Maybe you don’t care about any of that right now. You’ll have to forgive me, I have a hard time breaking out of lecture mode. I’m a doctor, a wizard, and a mother all wrapped up in one. What I’m trying to say is that our next festival is on track to be the weakest showing of magic in the recorded history of Tortus Bay. It’ll make last month’s nothing seem like nothing.”
“You think I have time to make my decision?”
Teresa chuckled. “A smarter person than I might lie, and say yes. But I have a lot wrapped up in being right. Plus, I think you’re a smart kid. And there are people who love you. I believe you’ll make the right choice. What I’m saying is that our next festival looks like it will be the pivotal moment when the village slips out of whatever strange grasp Emmaline has on it. It will be exactly two-hundred years since her death—to the month, as close as I can figure. Her magic will leave.”
“And never return again, unless I do something about it.”
“Which I sincerely hope you do not. I’ve met every person in Tortus Bay. I’ve learned a lot of their secrets. The Brihtes and the Gauthes are both good at their own little branches of magic, but whenever they needed healing they came to me. I’ve seen people lose themselves entirely to their gift. Like Noel. Please, don’t follow him down that path.”