“We should sleep now,” I say, pushing away the doubt. There’s no good in it. “We need to start as soon as it’s light.” I turn to Eli. “What do you think? You want to go back down and sleep in the houses? They’ve got those beds.”
“No,” Eli says, curling up on the floor. “Let’s stay here.”
I understand why. Late at night the empty township feels exposed—to the river, to the loneliness that settled in when the farmers left—and to the ghostly eyes and hands of the paintings they made. Here in the cave where they kept things safe seems like the place where we might be safe too.
In my dreams, bats fly in and out of the cave all night long. Some fly fat and heavy and I know they’re full of the blood of other living things. Others fly a little higher and I know they’re light with hunger. But they all have noisy, beating wings.
At the end of the night, near dawn, I wake up. Vick and Eli still sleep and I wonder what it was that disturbed me. A sound in the township?
I walk to the outermost door of the caves and look out.
A light flickers in the window of one of the houses below us.
I wait for the dawn, folded inside my coat. Down here in the Carving, I walk and sleep deep in the earth and the Society doesn’t see me. I’m starting to believe they truly don’t know where I am. I’ve escaped.
It feels strange.
All my life I’ve been watched. The Society saw me go to school and learn to swim and walk up the steps to attend my Match Banquet; they sorted my dreams; when they found my data interesting, as my Official did, they altered things and recorded my reaction.
And though it was a different kind of watching, my family watched me, too.
At the end of his life, Grandfather used to sit at a window as the sun went down. I wondered, then, if he stayed awake all night and saw the sun come back up again. During one of those long, wakeful nights, did he decide that he would give me the poems?
I pretend that Grandfather hasn’t vanished but instead floats above it all, and that of all the things in the world to see from up high he chooses to see one small girl curled up in a canyon. He wonders if I will wake and rise when it becomes clear that dawn is on its way after all.
Did Grandfather mean for me to end up here?
“Are you awake?” Indie asks.
“I never slept,” I say, but even as I say it, I can’t be sure it’s true. For what if my imagining Grandfather was really a dream?
“We can start in a few minutes,” Indie says. In the seconds since we first spoke to each other, the light has changed. I can already see her better.
Indie chooses a good spot; even I can tell that. The walls are not nearly as high and sheer as they’ve been in other places and an old rockfall left piles of boulders part of the way up.
Still, the walls of the canyon are daunting, and I haven’t had much practice—just the little time we had last night before we went to sleep.
Indie holds out her hand in a peremptory gesture. “Give me your pack.”
“You’re not used to climbing,” Indie says evenly. “I’ll put your things in mine and you can carry yours empty. It’ll be easier that way. I don’t want the weight to make you fall.”
“Are you sure?” Suddenly I feel that if Indie has the pack she has too much. I don’t want to let the tablets go.
Indie looks impatient. “I know what I’m doing. Like you did with the plants.” She frowns. “Come on. You trusted me on the air ship.”
She’s right, and that reminds me of something. “Indie,” I ask, “what did you bring with you? What was it you had me hide on the ship?”
“Nothing,” she says.
“Nothing?” I echo, surprised.
“I didn’t think you’d trust me unless you thought I had something to lose, too,” she says, grinning.
“But in the village, you pretended to take something back from me,” I say.
“I know,” she says, not a trace of apology in her voice. I shake my head and in spite of myself I start to laugh as I slide off my pack and hand it to her.
She opens it up and dumps the contents—flashlight, plant leaves, empty canteen, blue tablets—into her own pack.
I suddenly feel guilty. I could have taken off with all the tablets and she still trusted me. “You should keep some of the tablets after this,” I say. “For yourself.”
Indie’s expression changes. “Oh,” she says, her voice wary. “All right.”
She hands me back my empty pack and I slide it over my shoulders. We climb wearing our coats, which makes us bulkier, but Indie thinks it easier than carrying them. She slides her own pack onto her back, over her long braid that burns almost as bright as these cliffs when the sun comes up. “Ready?” she asks.
“I think so,” I say, looking up at the rock.
“Follow me,” she says. “I’ll talk you through it.” She puts her fingers in the holds and hoists herself up. In my eagerness to follow, I knock over a small pile of rocks. They scatter, and I hold tight.
“Don’t look down,” Indie says.
It takes much longer to climb than it does to fall.
It strikes me how much of this is holding on and waiting, deciding the next move and then committing to it. My fingers grip tightly into the rock and my toes curl as much as they can. I focus on the task at hand, and somehow that means that, even though I don’t think of Ky, I’m completely immersed in thinking of him. Because I’m being like him.
The canyon walls here are reddish-orange, drizzled with black. I’m not sure where the black came from; it’s almost like an ocean thick with tar lapped against the sides long ago.
“You’re doing fine,” Indie tells me as I come up next to her on a ledge. “Now this will be the hardest part,” she says, pointing. “Let me try it out first.”
I sit on the ledge, lean my back against the rock. My arms ache from holding on so tightly. I wish the rock would hold us, cradle us back as we cling to it, but it doesn’t. “I think I’ve got it,” Indie calls down softly. “When you come up here—”
I hear the sound of falling rocks, of flesh scraping stone. I’m on my feet. The ledge is small and my balance uncertain. “Indie!”
She dangles above me, holding onto the rocks. One of her legs hangs down near me, scraped, bloody. I hear her swear softly.
“Are you all right?” I call up.
“Push,” she says, her voice ragged. “Push me up.”
I put my palms under the tread of her boot, worn from the run across the plain and dusty-soled from the canyon and the rocks.
There is a terrible moment when she rests there on my hands, so heavy, and I know she can’t find anything to grab above. Then she is gone; the weight of her boot leaves my hand; the imprint of it is left on my palm.
“I’m up,” she calls down. “Come around to your left. I can talk you up from here.”
“Is it safe? Are you sure you’re all right?”
“It’s my own fault. These rocks are softer than the ones I’m used to climbing. I put too much weight on that piece and it broke off.”
The scrapes on her leg belie her statement that the rock is soft, but I know what she means. Things here are so different. Poisoned rivers, softened stone. You never know exactly what you’re getting into. What will hold and what will give way.
The second half of the climb goes more smoothly. Indie was right; the sheer part was the hardest to navigate. I clutch thin edges of rock using only the pads of my fingers, willing my knuckles to stay bent and my feet not to slip. I wedge my arms and knees into slots running vertically up the face of the rock, using my clothes and skin the way Indie taught me—as friction to keep my body close to the wall.
“We’re almost there,” she says above me. “Give me a minute and climb on up. It’s not bad.”
I try to catch my breath, pausing for a rest in a crevice. The rock does hold me here, I realize, and I smile, exh
ilarated by how high we are.
Ky would love this. Maybe he’s climbing, too.
Time for the last push to the top.
I will not look down or back or anywhere but up and forward. My empty pack shifts a little and I waver, my fingernails digging into the stone. Hold on. Wait. Something light and winged flies past me, startling me. To calm myself, I think of the poem Ky gave me for my birthday, the one about the water:
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
Here on this stony shore, I feel like a creature left behind after the water has pulled back to the sea. Trying to climb over into someplace where Ky might be. And even if he’s not there, I’ll find him. I’ll go over again and again until I’ve finally crossed to where he is.
I pause for a moment to get my balance back, and then, in spite of myself, I look over my shoulder.
The view is completely different from what Ky and I saw together at the top of the Hill. No houses, no City Hall, no buildings. It is sand and rock and scrubby tree; but it is still something I have climbed, and once again, it feels like Ky has climbed it with me somehow.
“I’m almost there,” I whisper to him, to Indie.
I pull myself over the edge of the cliff, a smile on my face, and then I look up.
We are not alone.
I know now why they call this a firing. Ash, everywhere. A wind sails across the Carving, blowing the debris into my eyes and making them blur and water.
It’s just the last of a big fire, I try to tell myself. Sticks laid end to end, smoke gone to the sky.
But the look on Indie’s face tells me that she sees the truth and in my mind I know it too. The blackened figures strewn across the ground are not sticks. They are real, these dozens of bodies on the top of the Carving.
Indie bends down and then straightens up, holding something. A charred length of rope, most of it good. “Let’s go,” she says, the ash on the rope blackening her hands. She reaches up to brush back a piece of her red hair floating loose in the breeze and accidentally marks her face.
I glance at the people. They have markings on their skin, too, blue ones, twisting lines. I wonder what they mean.
Why did you come up here? How did you make this rope? What else have you learned out here while the rest of us forgot about you? Or never knew you existed at all?
“How long have they been dead?” I ask.
“Long enough,” Indie says. “A week, maybe more. I’m not sure.” There’s a hard edge to her voice. “Whoever did this might come back. We have to leave.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement and turn. Tall red flags set along the ridge whip furiously in the wind. Though staked into the ground instead of tied to trees, they remind me of the red scraps Ky and I left on the Hill.
Who marked the land up here? Who killed all thsee people? The Society? The Enemy?
Where is the Rising?
“We have to leave now, Cassia,” Indie says behind me.
“No,” I say. “We can’t leave them here.”
Were they the Rising?
“This is how Anomalies die,” Indie says, her voice cold. “The two of us alone can’t change it. We have to find someone else.”
“Maybe these are the people we were trying to find,” I say. Please. Don’t let the Rising be gone before we’ve even had a chance to find it.
Oh, Ky, I think. I never knew. So this is the kind of death you’ve seen.
Indie and I run across the top of the Carving and leave the bodies behind. Ky’s still alive, I tell myself. He has to be.
Only the sun is in the sky. Nothing flies. There are no angels here.
We don’t stop moving until we’ve put distance between us and whoever’s in the township. None of us speak much; we go fast and follow the main canyon. After a few hours I get out the map to check our position.
“We seem to be climbing up all of the time,” Eli says, a little out of breath.
“We are,” I say.
“Then why don’t we seem to be getting any higher?” Eli asks.
“The canyon walls are rising too,” I say. “Look.” I show him how the farmers marked elevation on the map.
Eli shakes his head in confusion. “Think of the Carving and all its canyons like a big boat,” Vick tells Eli. “The part where we entered was low in the water. The part where we’re coming out is high. See? When we climb out, we’ll be above that huge plain.”
“You know about boats?” Eli asks.
“A little,” Vick says. “Not much.”
“We can rest for a minute,” I tell Eli, reaching for my canteen. I take a drink.
Vick and Eli do too. “Remember that poem you say for the dead?” Vick begins. “The one I asked you about before?”
“Yes.” I look at the mountain settlement marked on the map. There’s where we need to be.
“How did you know it?”
“I came across it,” I say. “Back in Oria.”
“Not in the Outer Provinces?” Vick asks.
He knows I know more than I’m saying. I look up. He and Eli stand on the opposite side of the map, watching. The last time Vick challenged me was out in the village when I talked about the way the Society killed Anomalies. I see the same flint-hard look in his eyes now. He thinks it’s time to talk about this.
“There, too,” I say. “I’ve heard about the Pilot all my life.” And I have. In the Border Provinces, in the Outer Provinces, in Oria, and now here in the Carving.
“So who do you think it is?” Vick asks.
“Some think the Pilot is the leader of a rebellion against the Society,” I say, and Eli’s eyes light up with excitement.
“The Rising,” Vick agrees. “I’ve heard that, too.”
“There’s a rebellion?” Eli asks eagerly. “And the Pilot’s the leader?”
“Maybe,” I say. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
“Of course it does,” Eli says, sounding angry. “Why didn’t you tell the rest of the decoys? Maybe we could have done something!”
“What?” I ask Eli wearily. “Vick and I have both heard of the Pilot. We don’t know where he or she is. And even if we did, I don’t believe the Pilot can do anything but die and take too many people with him.”
Vick shakes his head but doesn’t say anything out loud.
“It could have given them some hope,” Eli says.
“What good is that if it there isn’t anything to back it up?” I ask Eli.
He sets his jaw stubbornly. “It’s not any different than what you tried to do with rigging the guns.”
He’s right. I sigh. “I know. But telling them about the Pilot wouldn’t have done any good either. It’s just a story my father used to tell.” Suddenly I remember how my mother would paint illustrations while he talked. When he finished telling the story of Sisyphus and the paintings dried up, I always felt like he finally had some rest.
“I heard about the Pilot from someone back home,” Vick says. He pauses. “What happened to them? Your parents?”
“They died in a firing,” I tell him. At first I think that’s all I’ll say. But I keep talking. I have to tell Eli and Vick what happened so they’ll see why I don’t believe. “My father used to gather all the villagers together for meetings.”
I think of how exciting it always was, everyone sliding in along the benches and talking with one another. Their faces would light up when they saw my father come into the room. “My father figured out a way to disconnect the village port without the Society knowing. That’s what he thought, anyway. I don’t know if the port still worked or if someone told the Society about the meetings. But they were gathered together when the firing started. Almost everyone died.”
“So was your father the Pilot?” Eli asks, sounding awed.
“If he was, he’s dead now,” I say. “And he took our whole village with him.
“He didn’t kill them,” Vick says. “You can’t blame him.”
I can and do. But I also see Vick’s point.
“Was it Society or Enemy who killed them?” Vick asks after a moment.
“The ships looked like the Enemy,” I say. “But the Society didn’t come until it was all over. That was new. Back then, they usually pretended to fight for us, at least.”
“Where were you when this happened?” Vick asks.
“Up on a plateau,” I say. “I went to see the rain come down.”
“Like the decoys who tried to get the snow,” Vick says. “But you didn’t die.”
“No,” I say. “The ships didn’t see me.”
“You were lucky,” Vick says.
“The Society doesn’t believe in luck,” Eli says.
“I’ve decided it’s the only thing I do believe in,” Vick says. “Good luck and bad luck, and ours always seems to be bad.”
“That’s not true,” Eli says. “We got away from the Society and made it into the canyon. We found the cave with the maps and we escaped the township before anyone found us.”
I admit nothing. I don’t believe in the Society or the Rising or any Pilot or good and bad luck. I do believe in Cassia. If I had to say I believed in anything more than that, I’d say I believe in it is, or it isn’t.
Right now I am, and I intend to keep it that way.
“Let’s go,” I tell the other two, and I roll up the map.
At dusk, we decide to camp in a cave marked on the map. When we duck through the opening, our flashlights illuminate a series of paintings and carvings on the walls inside.
Eli stops in his tracks. I know how he feels.