Sib was massaging the knot on the back of his neck. It had been bothering him since the day after he came back from his visit to Spellhold. He and Incheon were sitting in the Pathfinder lounge before classes working on a project for Astronomy.
“Do you have a knot in your neck too?” asked Incheon. “My brother says it’s brain-eating beetles.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to worry since in your case, they’ll starve to death.”
“You bet,” he said smiling. “What do you want to do today?”
“You mean after this project?” Sib held up his parchment to show Incheon what they were supposed to be working on.
“I was thinking ‘instead’.”
“Dunno," Sib replied. "I’m still waitin’ for the old woman to get the memory to me. What do you think is takin’ her so long?”
“Maybe the whole ‘extracting a memory from a monster’ part?”
“Could you do me a favor?”
“Probably not,” Incheon said. “Does it involve any effort at all?”
“I want you to ask Willow to send Fred off to find her.”
“Oof,” he replied. “That sounds like effort. First I’d have to figure out where Willow is.”
“She’s right there on the other side of the room,” Sib said, pointing to where she was sitting not twenty feet away.
“Then I’d have to get up.”
Sib reached over and grabbed Incheon’s arm, twisting it painfully which forced him to stand up to escape the hold. “There,” Sib said triumphantly. “You’re up.”
“Now I’d have to walk…” Sib started to get up and force him to move, but Incheon started walking on his own.
“So impatient…” he said as he walked over to the table where Lily, Lef, Willow and Hye-lin were sitting. Sib didn’t watch the conversation and instead glanced over to where Quinta was sitting by herself. She hadn’t been her usual snarky self ever since she found out about her mother. She spent most of her time alone; brooding. Sib didn’t even know what to say to her, but he was starting to get worried.
Incheon returned and sat down. “She said that she sent Fred off to find Ursula three weeks ago with explicit instructions not to come back without a message from her. She hasn’t seen him since.”
“‘Cause she’s in prison…,” started Sib. He had told them all about Ursula’s imprisonment several weeks before, but as she had asked, had left off the part about Willow’s role in her capture. He was saving that for the next time Willow ticked him off. Their mutual silent treatment made that unnecessary so far.
“That’s probably causing some of the problem, yes,” replied Incheon. “Also, you are a blathering dunderhead.”
“A complete nincompoop. A pathetic, drooling nitwit.”
“She said all that?”
“No, I just added that for effect.”
“You bet,” he said, smiling. “Now what do you want to do today?”
Sib sighed and put his Astronomy homework away. “Let’s go fly on a Firebird.”
Lef had managed to pull Sib aside on their way to their last class that afternoon. “Are you going to the game against Uxmal?” Lef asked him, referring to the last Quidditch game of the season scheduled at the opposing school the following weekend.
“I wasn’t going to,” Sib replied. “It’s not like we’re gonna win.”
“I think you should go.”
“Why? It’s in Mexico, and it’s probably a hundred degrees there.”
“Just come to the game, alright?”
“I don’t wanna come,” he said.
“Look,” she lowered her voice. “Willow wants to talk to you.”
Sib was confused. “She hasn't talked to me for a month. Why do I have to go to Mexico for her to talk to me? Does the silent treatment not apply there?”
“Haven’t you noticed how upset she’s been since you told us about Ursula?”
“Not really…” He had been trying hard not to pay attention to her over the past month.
“What about when she spilled your drink at lunch the other day and then bought you a butterbeer to replace it?”
“What about it?”
“...and what about when she threw a dead frog on you in potions class yesterday.”
“What are you gettin’ at?”
Lef looked exasperated. “Why do you think Incheon throws frogs on Hye-lin?”
“To make her go away?”
“God, you are daft. Incheon likes her.”
“He hates her!”
She shook her head in resignation. "It's like talking to a potato. I’ll make this easy for you." She poked Sib in the chest with her finger. "You are going to the game on Saturday and you’re going to shut up and listen when Willow talks to you, got it?” Her look suggested she wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.
“Alright,” he agreed. “But I still don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“You don’t have to.” She walked away.
I thought Willow hated my guts… Jeez, I don’t think I’ll ever understand girls.
When he reached the visitor’s stands at Uxmal that Saturday, the temperature must have been over a hundred degrees in the shade. He started sweating almost immediately. He looked around, and saw several familiar faces from the school, but none of the Pathfinders. I’d better not be the only one. He found a spot by himself under cover and tried to get comfortable, but he could feel the sweat dripping down his back just from sitting there. Willow arrived soon after and came to sit by him when she saw where he was.
“Fred came back with a message,” she said to him, sitting in the chair next to his.
“Are you talking to me now?” he responded angrily. She was silent and looked out on the field as the players warmed up. Alright Lef, I’ll shut up and listen to what she says. “Sorry. Go on,” he said, much more calmly.
“We are all supposed to meet the old woman at the Wendigo circle next Saturday at sunrise.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” he asked. He was desperately afraid that that meant Hedges and Beene as well.
“I don’t want to take Hedges and Beene,” she said. “So I’m assuming it’s all the second years.”
Well, at least we agree on one thing. There was silence between them as they watched the start of the game.
“I’m sorry I called you a stupid hillbilly,” she said, still not looking at him. “I know you’re smart and I shouldn’t have said it.”
You’re dang right you shouldn’t have said it. Sib remained silent.
“I was really upset about Corey,” she continued. “I didn’t want what we did to be a mistake. I don’t want to see him killed.”
I know, but that still don’t make it okay that he’s roamin’ around hurtin’ people.
“I thought Ursula could fix it. I thought she could keep him from attacking anyone, or maybe she could take him back to where he belonged.”
He was raised in captivity. He never learned how to survive on his own.
She sighed. “I was stupid.”
“You ain’t stupid,” he said. “You’re just as stubborn as a mule.” They were silent for a while as the crowd cheered Uxmal scoring a goal.
“Why did you help me break him out?” she asked.
Because I liked you. Because I would have followed you anywhere. “I don’t know,” he replied. “You needed help, so I helped. Why did Lef fix my hand last year? Why did Quinta go with me to meet the old woman? Why did you help me figure out the nomaj code my Gramma was usin’?”
"Why did Quinta go with you?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Sib. "She's always got her own reasons." Maybe she was bored.
“I don’t like not being friends,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck.
“I don’t either.” He had noticed that their split had also broken apart the rest of the Pathfinders. They hadn’t done anything as a group in over a month. Not that Incheon isn’t a good friend. It’s just that there’s only so much of him I can take at once. And I miss talkin' to you... He looked around. “Nobody else is comin’ to this game are they?”
“No,” she replied. “I wanted to apologize to you in private, and I thought it was a good way to get you alone.”
“Apology accepted," he said. Finally alone again...but I'm not sure you feel about me the same as I did about you...I guess I can throw that stupid carvin' on the fire. "So do we have to stay?”
“No. God, it’s hot. And besides, we're awful,” she said as she pointed to the Gampton team on the field.
“So what do we do about Corey?” Sib asked her as they stood up to leave.
“I don’t know,” she said. “With Ursula in prison, there’s not much we can do. Do you think the guard around the school grounds is enough?”
“I hope so,” he said.
“What are you going to do with the memory when you get it?”
“You heard Gramma,” he said. “I’m going to see what it says and then I’m gettin’ it to the Ghost.”
"I'm surprised to see you here," Sib said to Incheon. He, Willow, Quinta and Lef were standing in the Wendigo circle at six in the morning the following Saturday when Incheon joined them. Sib had been sure that Incheon would sleep right through it.
“I've heard stories about the world existing before the sun comes up and I wanted to see for myself," Incheon responded, yawning. "I wasn't missing anything."
"Here comes Lily," said Willow, who had slept over at Lef's house so that the two of them could travel together.
"You weren't sure you could make it," Sib said to her when she arrived.
"My dad is an early riser," she replied. "So I knew I'd have to tell him what I was doing up so early. I told him I was helping you with a project at school."
“You are helpin’ me with a project.”
“I know. I don’t like lying. Just promise me we won’t get in trouble.”
“How would we get in trouble?," Sib replied. "I mean, we’re just gettin’ a memory and then we’re goin’ to watch it in the penseive and then take it to the Ghost. What could go wrong?”
“Are you the idiots who set a manticore loose in the woods?” Sib jumped and turned around. He didn’t even realize the woman in black had approached them.
“I...uh…” Sib started feeling his face flush.
“We have no idea what you’re talking about,” Willow replied.
Good thinkin’. “I did what you asked,” Sib told the old woman to change the subject. “Do you have the memory?”
“Here?” she replied. “Of course not, but I can tell you how to get it.”
“What! But you promised...”
“Enough of that,” she said, raising her writhing staff and cutting him off. “If you want the memory, then you will follow these instructions. She opened a small black velvet bag and showed the contents to Sib. Inside were six scrolls. She shook the bag. “Go on, take it.”
Sib took the bag from her and reached in, taking out the first one. “Sweetwater,” he read from the outside.
“So one of you will go to Sweetwater and follow the directions in the scroll,” the old woman said. “That will tell you how to collect the memory. Be careful what you select, as only the person who opens the scroll can collect the memory from each location.”
“But there are six scrolls,” Sib said, pulling out another. “Which one has the memory?”
“They all do,” she said. “Six locations, six copies of the memory, six Pathfinders.”
“Why six?” asked Willow.
“Because someone else wants them as badly as you do. They will likely try to take them from you when you collect them.”
“But how do they know we have them?” Sib asked.
“You never know who’s listening,” she said.
Sib let the scroll drop to his side and he looked at the old woman. “Who are you?” She put her hands up and lifted the hood from her head. She was an elderly, frail-looking woman, in her seventies or eighties, Sib guessed, with long, flowing grey hair and piercing grey eyes. Sib recognized those eyes. It’s her! “You’re the Wendigo,” he said.
Without a word, she lifted her staff in the air and changed into a fox which turned around and bounded off into the woods. “Did you see her eyes?” he asked the others when she had disappeared.
“What about them?” Incheon replied.
“She was the Wendigo.”
“Sure she was,” he said in a way that made it clear he didn’t believe Sib at all. “…is there a location that’s easy in there?”
Sib looked back into the bag and started reading the names on the scrolls. “Fitchburg, Dinwiddy,...”
“Ooh,” Lef piped up. “I’ll take Dinwiddy since I live there.”
Sib handed her the scroll. “Bracken Brae, Narrowway,...”
“Narrowway’s easy,” said Incheon. “I’ll take that.”
Sib handed it to him and read the remaining one. “Nanty Glo.”
“Give me Sweetwater,” said Willow.
“I can take Bracken Brae,” said Lily.
“I don’t care which one I get,” said Quinta, so Sib handed her the scroll for Fitchburg and kept Nanty Glo for himself.
The others had already opened their scrolls so Sib snapped the seal on his and unrolled it. ‘Firejump to Nanty Glo Town Commons and proceed northwest to Merlin Street. Behind the fourth house on the left will be a barrel under which will be a key. Take the key and proceed four miles north…’ The letter went on with step after step. Sib looked up at the others. “Do yours all have you on a scavenger hunt?” he asked.
“Why does it have to be so complicated?” complained Lily. “I don’t know how long it will take to get this all done.”
“Just do your best,” Sib said. “We’d better get movin’ if we want to get these memories. Remember, once you get them, we’ll meet back here and take ‘em to the pool.”
“That’s dumb,” interjected Willow. “We should just take them to the Ghost.” The others were all quiet, waiting for another explosive exchange between the two of them.
“What do you mean?” asked Sib, biting his tongue to prevent himself from making a more forceful response. Here we go again...
“Sorry. Not dumb,” she fumbled. “I mean, if someone else is looking for them, we should make sure we get them to the Ghost first, right?”
Sib thought for a moment. She's right...as much as I hate to admit it. “Is there a Ghost office in each of these towns?” he asked.
“There should be,” Lily said. “There’s a local version of the Ghost for every major magical town.”
“Then get the memory to the Ghost,” said Sib. “If you make it, send an instant message that says ‘Ghost’ so the rest of us know.”
“What if we don’t make it?” asked Lef.
Then we got bigger problems.
“We’ll make it,” Willow said. “I can feel it.”
“Must be gas…” muttered Incheon. He let his scroll unroll. It was at least a foot longer than any of theirs. “Anybody want to trade?”
When they made it back to the school, the six of them reached inside their bags and pulled out the golden dragots that had been used to track them. Sib had two in his bag - the one that Quinta had un-charmed and a new one to replace it. They set all of the coins on the windowsill in the grand gallery and then Sib watched as the others firejumped away before stepping in himself and calling out ‘Nanty Glo’. The world spun and he stepped out of the public fireplaces into the center of a small village. He looked around and found himself in familiar country. The village was nestled in a ravine and the houses stretched up the hillside in both directions. The trees and soft rolling hills looked exactly like what he’d expect around his West Virginia home in the early morning.
He looked around to get his bearings and saw that the main street - 'Glo Avenue' - ran along the bottom of the ravine. He checked the light on the horizon to orient himself to the sunrise in the east and then turned northwest, walking up the ravine through the center of the village. While he was walking, he checked to see if any of the shops were the local office of the Ghost and figured it was in the opposite direction when he didn't see it. When he got to the fifth road, he saw that it was called ‘Merlin Street’ and turned to walk up. He noticed the first problem immediately. All of the houses were on the right. The left side of the street was a sheer cliff leading right back down to the bottom of the ravine. He kept climbing and finally the street took a sharp switchback and continued up the ravine - with houses only on the left side of the street. At the fourth one - an abandoned two-story shack - he went through the slowly rotting structure to find the barrel in the overgrown backyard. He pushed it over and underneath was a small skeleton key which he picked up.
He read the next direction. ‘Proceed four miles north to the fork in the road toward Twin Rocks and find the locked chest hidden under a white stone on the right side of the road.’
This is going to take forever. He reached in his bag and pulled out his broom. It beats walkin’ any day. He kicked off and zoomed over the edge of the street and down into the ravine, skirting over the treetops. He saw several early-morning locals pointing him out as he flew by on his firebird look-alike. I guess I can’t be inconspicuous on this thing.
He leaned forward and shot out of the village, up the north road toward the fork. Within five minutes, he had reached the place the letter indicated and found the white rock on the side of the road. Even though he was well outside of town, he noticed quite a bit of foot traffic passing by. Can’t be too careful. He waited until everyone was out of sight and pushed over the stone revealing the box underneath. He used the key to open it and there was a small sphere inside. He looked back to his scroll. ‘Cast ‘lumos occultatum’ with the globe and the light will reveal the location of the memory on the back side of this note.’ He took the sphere, cast the spell, and turned over the scroll to read what it said.
You gotta be kidding me. There were at least a dozen more steps - each taking him further and further away. Can I just skip to the end? He looked through all the steps having him seeking out a map, finding a missing piece and then he saw the last one was ‘Under the white tree at the top of the highest peak you will find what you seek.‘ Forget all this other stuff. White tree - highest peak. Got it. He grabbed his firebird and took to the skies.
Once he was in the air, it was simply a matter of looking for the highest peak in sight. He remembered one of the steps took him due West, so he headed away from the rising sun, looking for a white birch or maybe a sycamore tree on the very top of a high mountain. After a quarter of an hour of searching in the slowly increasing light, he managed to find exactly what he was looking for, and leaned forward on his broom to hurry toward a windswept birch tree on a high rocky outcrop. The sky looked wavy over the hilltop as if there was a fire underneath, but he soon realized it was just a mirage. He pulled up as he reached the white tree and found a small silver box sitting on top of the roots. He put his broom back in his bag and reached down to pick up the box. I’ve got it. Finally. He reached inside and pulled out a small bottle, holding it up in the early morning sunlight.
“I’ll be taking that now.” Sib whirled to see who was talking and was faced with an old grizzled man in a MACUSA robe. He had short grey hair, a patchy beard and deep crow’s feet around his eyes. Sib’s attention was quickly drawn to the mage’s wand which was pointed directly at him. Sib remained still as the man walked to him and took the vial. He put it in his pocket, grabbed Sib around the elbow and then apparated. Sib felt the familiar body-squeezing pressure of side-along apparition and braced himself for the landing.
They landed in a starkly empty grey room with nothing but a pair of chairs and a small table. There was a single door on either side, but no windows. The old man checked Sib’s pockets, and then pointed at a chair in the middle of the room. “Sit,” he said. Sib sat down and handcuffs immediately jumped up and attached themselves to his wrists. The old man set the memory on a small table and walked out of the room with Sib’s bag, returning a moment later without it.
“Let’s see what we have inside.” He said as he unstoppered the bottle and turned it over. It was empty. He turned back to Sib. “So who has it?” he demanded.
“I...I thought we all did.” So who does have the memory?
They were interrupted by another MACUSA agent who knocked and entered without waiting for a response. She was a barrel-chested woman with her grey-rooted blonde hair pulled up into a severe bun. “Neither of them have it,” she reported as she stood in the doorway.
“They have to know something,” he said. “Did you try scaring them with the boggart?”
“It didn’t work. One started crying over a moth and the other just sat there with a freakin’ pickle lying on the ground.”
Lily & Incheon!
“What about the others?”
“I sent every agent we have out after the other two kids. We’ll get them.” The man nodded, but turned around when he saw the other agent’s attention was drawn to the opposite door.
A ghostly shape oozed under the door and coalesced into the shape of a bulldog. It trotted over to the two agents and stopped in front of them. “Spellhold has fallen. Report there at once with reinforcements.” The patronus evaporated.
“What does he mean, Spellhold has fallen?” the bun-headed woman asked.
“It’s a breakout,” the grizzled one replied. “All of our agents are scattered to the four winds chasing after these damn kids. It was all a setup.”
“None of them has the memory. We’ve been had.” He pointed at her. “Check the firejump to Spellhold, now.” The woman disapparated with a ‘pop’.
“It appears you’ve been a victim as well,” he said, turning to Sib. “But you should have never gotten involved with these people.”
“I got involved when you threw my pa in prison.”
He stared at Sib for a moment, thinking. “Damn self-fulfilling prophecy…” he muttered. The other agent re-apparated with a ‘pop’ back into the room.
“Spellhold has no incoming or outgoing traffic," she reported. "The firejumps are down.”
“Damn." He checked the clock. "It won't move for another two hours. We’ll jump to Bracken Brae and travel overland. Let’s go!” They ran out of the room, leaving the door open. Sib was still locked to the immovable chair.
He struggled with the handcuffs, trying to squeeze his hands through, but the more he scrunched them down, the more the handcuffs tightened. Any more and it’s gonna cut off my circulation.
Just as he stopped struggling, he heard familiar voices from the hallway.
“Was it at least a giant moth with fangs?”
“No, that would have been ridiculous.”
“No, ridiculous would have been a giant cucumber with fangs.”
“Hey, in here!” Sib called.
Lily poked her head inside the door “Sib!”
“How did you guys get out?” he said as they came into the room.
“They never took our amulets away,” said Incheon. “So when she bugged out, we just cast with our hands.”
Sib looked down inside his shirt and saw his amulet still resting against his chest. I am an idiot. “Alohomora!” The magical handcuffs fell away.
“We were used,” Sib said. “She never intended on giving us the memory. It was all a setup to draw MACUSA away from Spellhold...I have to go and try to save my pa.”
Lily was exasperated. “Sib! You promised we wouldn’t get into trouble,” she said. “I can’t go to Spellhold - I’d be grounded for a month!”
“I understand, but I’m goin’ after my pa and Ursula. Even if I have to go alone.”
“I’ll go with you,” Incheon said. “But you should probably take Quinta.”
“Is she here?”
“I think so, the guards were talking about a girl who kept asking where her mother was.”
“Okay. Incheon - make sure Lily gets to a firejump. Lily, when you get home, send a message to the others to let them know I’m going to Bracken Brae and then to Spellhold. They can come or not, but I can’t wait for them.”
“What about MACUSA reading the messages?”
“They’re all too busy now to care. I’m goin’ to find Quinta.” Sib left them and sprinted down the hallway, stopping to peer inside each doorway he came across. He wasn’t worried about any more guards as they all had been sent to Spellhold. Three doors down, he found his Stor-All and quickly looked inside to make sure his things were still as he left them. Finding everything where it should be, he slung it on his back and continued down the hallway.
He knew he was getting close when he found a door that had been blown off its hinges. Inside, a portly man in a MACUSA robe was lying unconscious on the floor. “Quinta!” he called. He heard a smashing noise further down the hall and headed that way.
He found her in a large windowless room that was filled with shelves of rocks. Quinta was standing next to one of the shelves, picking up each rock, turning it over, and then dropping it on the floor. Sib pointed back down the hallway toward the room with the unconscious mage. “What happened?”
“I made him talk,” she said. Sib didn’t want to ask how she did that.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for my mother. Have you seen her?” She picked up another rock, turned it over and then dropped it on the ground.
I think she’s finally snapped. “Your ma’s not in here,” Sib tried to explain to her. “It’s just shelves of rocks.”
“These aren’t rocks," said Quinta, inspecting a rock and then dropping it on the floor.
Oh, she’s really lost it. “Quinta, I need to get to Spellhold and I need you to come with me.”
“Sure,” she said. “Just as soon as I find my mother.”
I’m gonna have to leave her here, ain’t I? Sib went over to try to pull her away. Instead she handed him a rock. “What do I…”
“Turn it over,” she said.
Sib turned the rock over and saw a name etched into the stone. “Joel Rosenberg, May 6 2010,” he read.
“That’s not my mother.” She took the rock that Sib was holding and dumped it on the floor. She handed Sib another one.
“Pietro Marconi, June 23, 2010.”
“That’s not my mother, either.”
The realization hit him like a charging oliphaunt. “Oh my god. These are people.” Sib dropped Pietro and stared at the shelves of rocks. He remembered what his father had told him when he visited Spellhold. ‘They transfigure me into an inanimate object and I’m stuck that way forever…’ “These are people that MACUSA has transfigured.”
“The man told me that my mother is one of them, but I can’t find her.”
Okay, Sib. Think. “Quinta, what's the name and date on the rock you have?”
“Christine Agarwal, September 23, 2010.”
“They ain’t in alphabetical order, but they might be in time order. When did your ma disappear?”
“Last February 5th.”
“Okay - we’re lookin’ on the wrong shelf. Come on.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her over to a different shelf that should have been about that time. “Check the dates on that side.” He picked up a rock from the shelf and saw that it was dated for the previous April.
“January,” she said from the opposite side.
Sib went over to where she was looking and started pulling rocks off the shelf next to hers. He found what he was looking for near the bottom. “I found her.” He held out the rock with the name ‘Maria Rodriguez’ on it.
Quinta took it from him. “How do I make her come back?”
“I don’t know,” Sib said. “But I promise that we’ll find out. Will you come with me to Spellhold?”
“Should I go with him, mom?” she asked the rock. She held it up to her ear. “She says ‘yes’.”
Did Quinta just get weirder? He shook his head. No time. He grabbed her hand and together they ran down the hall toward where Sib guessed the fireplaces were. At the end of the corridor was a set of double doors and Sib burst through them to find an entrance hall. Along one wall was a set of fireplaces and he hurried over to them. He and Quinta stepped inside and he tossed the floo powder at their feet. “Bracken Brae!” he shouted.
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