Darkstalker, p.27
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       Darkstalker, p.27

           Tui T. Sutherland
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  “All right.” He held the bracelet between his talons and closed his eyes, concentrating fiercely. Finally he handed it back to her. It looked and felt exactly the same.

  “It’s done,” he whispered.

  “You’re sure this will work?” she said.

  “You’d know better than I would,” he said.

  That was true. She could see that the spell was strong; it would work — if she could get the bracelet on Darkstalker’s arm. If he didn’t figure out what she was doing. If she was fast enough … if, if, if …

  “Thank you,” she said. “If this works, you’ve saved the world, you know.”

  He shifted his wings, looking down at his talons as if they might accidentally set something on fire. “It’ll be more you than me,” he said. “Be careful.”

  She hugged him and thrust the scroll into his claws. “One more thing,” she said. “I — I’m afraid he did something to Indigo.” He looked up, his eyes wide. “Search through here and find it. I don’t know how he hid it from me, but it must be in there somewhere. Maybe you can bring her back, or … well, whatever it is, you should know the truth.”

  He nodded, barely breathing.

  “Then hide that scroll and get as far away from the Night Kingdom as you can. Whatever you do, don’t destroy the scroll, or else he’ll get all his power back.” Clearsight rubbed her eyes, stepping toward the window. She knew she would never see him again. “Good-bye, Fathom.”

  “Good-bye, Clearsight. Good luck.”

  She was out in the sky a moment later, flying on aching wings toward Agate Mountain, far to the east. She didn’t look back, but she knew Fathom was standing in the window, watching her go.

  The timelines were all narrowing to one moment now.

  She flew toward her last chance to save the future.

  He did something to Indigo.

  Fathom turned away from the window and the dark sky that had swallowed Clearsight. He was still shaken from what he’d done — betraying his friend. Breaking his oath. Using his magic.

  But all he could really think was Indigo.

  What had Darkstalker done?

  Is she … could he have …

  No. No. She had to be alive. With all his power, Darkstalker could have done anything to get rid of her — he didn’t have to kill her. Maybe he’d enchanted a necklace that made her want to leave Fathom. Or an earring that made her forget he even existed. Something that made her stop loving him.

  She did love me. His heart was pounding. If Darkstalker got rid of her — that means she didn’t leave me.

  But she would never have accepted a gift from Darkstalker; she always suspected everything he touched of being cursed in some way.

  So what could he have done to her?

  He knelt on the floor and spread the scroll out so he could see the entire thing.

  There were so many spells! He hadn’t realized how much Darkstalker had been doing, quietly, without Fathom noticing. All these small enchantments. A plate that kept prey warm for his mother when she was late for dinner; a blanket that made sure she slept peacefully when she was out in the desert with the army. A set of paints for Whiteout that never went dry and never ran out. And here, near the end, a bell that would ring to let Darkstalker know whenever Fathom was feeling sad or lonely.

  Guilt rippled through Fathom. That was how Darkstalker had always known when to show up, always lifted Fathom out of the worst loneliness. Darkstalker did care about him. Look at all these spells that showed his kindness.

  Were they making a mistake?

  Was Darkstalker’s good side strong enough to outweigh his potential for evil?

  But then there were the big spells — the shield that killed any IceWing who approached the Night Kingdom. A weapon that shot fire ten times as far as any dragon could normally breathe it.

  And the last one: Enchant Arctic the IceWing to obey my every command.

  Not to mention whatever he did to Indigo, if Clearsight was right.

  Could he have enchanted her the same way he did Arctic?

  And all the blank space still left at the end, where Darkstalker could write spell after spell to control the world, to kill anyone he pleased, to have everything his way.

  Fathom bent his head and started reading. He read the entire scroll from beginning to end, pausing over each spell to try to imagine if it could be used to make a dragon disappear.

  But there was nothing — nothing about Indigo, nothing that hinted at where she might have gone.

  He sat back, frustrated. It must be in here. Unless Clearsight was wrong, and Indigo really had left because she wanted to.

  The scroll lay quietly in front of him, beckoning as though it were full of dark secrets.

  Darkstalker’s handwriting was messy and sometimes hard to read, a tight jagged line of sharp points and hard strokes. It seemed to get angrier in the later enchantments, the marks pressing harder into the paper.

  But there was something else that changed.

  The earliest spells were written fairly close together, one right after another, in an orderly row down the page. Clearsight’s bracelet that prevented mind reading; a scroll that would read out loud to them.

  But the later spells were spread out, with a lot more space between them.

  Why had Darkstalker left so many gaps? Didn’t he want to conserve every inch of space carefully?

  Fathom’s eyes were starting to hurt, and he realized he’d been reading with his night vision. The closest candles had gone out, and only one was still flickering, over by the balcony. He got up and brought it over, hoping the extra light would help give him a clue.

  As he set it down and picked up the scroll to move it closer, a shadow seemed to flicker across the page, drawn by the flame.

  What …

  Cautiously he lifted the scroll so the candlelight shone through it.

  And in the blank spaces, words began to appear.

  Fathom caught his breath. He’s been writing spells in invisible ink.

  To keep them hidden from Clearsight, he realized a moment later. Oh, Darkstalker.

  Here was his immortality spell. Here was the spell on Clearsight’s moonstone earrings — an enchantment that kept the dragon who wore them focused only on the brightest, happiest futures, hiding anything truly bad that might happen up ahead.

  He found a spell enchanting the scroll to send Darkstalker a mental twinge whenever someone else used it — so Fathom was right about that, and they were lucky not to have written in here.

  And then — oh no.

  Enchant this goblet so that the first time Fathom drinks from it, he will stop loving Indigo, forget about his oath, and decide to freely use his animus magic again.

  He was horrified. The glass goblet had been enchanted, and just as terribly as Indigo had suspected. He still remembered the sound of it shattering against the wall. Indigo was right after all, right about everything. She’d saved him from it — saved him from Darkstalker’s manipulation — and he hadn’t even believed her.

  Another spell appeared. Enchant this dagger to fly into the Kingdom of Sand and kill one IceWing every full moon, in secret, under cover of darkness — and keep doing so for one year, or until I summon it back. Enchant it to leave messages carved near the body, warning that the Darkstalker is coming for all of them and soon they will all be dead.

  Fathom wondered if the queen knew about that dagger, or if that was Darkstalker’s own personal secret revenge for the loss of Foeslayer. The IceWings must be terrified, he thought. It must feel like he’s haunting them. I wonder how many it has killed so far.

  As the enchantments appeared, dark words curling across the paper, Fathom felt as though he was uncovering Darkstalker’s most hidden thoughts and plans. No wonder he hadn’t wanted Clearsight to see this side of him. There were spells to torment classmates he hated in small, creative ways. A spell that sent nightmares to haunt Queen Diamond with all the ways he planned to kill her.

d then — Fathom sat forward so quickly he nearly set the scroll on fire.

  Enchant this pebble so that when it rolls into the same room as Indigo the SeaWing, she shall be instantly trapped inside the small wooden carving of a dragon made for me by Fathom.

  Right below it:

  Enchant this piece of paper to look like a note written in Indigo’s handwriting, with a short, believable message saying she’s leaving Fathom and not coming back.

  Fathom let out a cry of despair. He dropped the scroll and ran to his desk, where the little dragon carving had been sitting for months, quietly reminding him of his lost love.

  He picked it up and cradled it in his claws. “Indigo?” he whispered to her. “Indigo, I’m sorry — I’m sorry.” He started to cry. “I should have listened to you. I should have realized how dangerous he was. I didn’t know what he would do. I’m so sorry.”

  I can still save her. If it will work. Albatross said I couldn’t bring dragons back from the dead — but she’s not dead — right? She’s still in here, somewhere.

  This was it, the choice he’d feared would come again — the choice to save Indigo for the price of his soul.

  It was no choice at all.

  “Bring her back,” he whispered fiercely to the carving. “Turn back into Indigo, my friend, exactly the way she was before Darkstalker did this to her.”

  The carving twitched in his claws, suddenly warm to the touch. A soft glow surrounded the little dragon, and as he set it down on the floor it started to grow, and shift, and change.

  And then she was there, alive and right in front of him, herself again.

  Indigo stretched her wings as wide as they would go and pressed her talons down into the floor.

  “Yowch,” she said. “Did I fall asleep? Great starfish, I’m hungry. Oh no, Fathom, why are you crying?”

  Her wings went around him and he held her close, sobbing with relief. “You’re alive,” he said shakily. “You didn’t leave me.”

  “Of course I didn’t leave you,” she said crossly, straightening up to face him. “I said I never would and I never will. Get that through your thick skull.”

  “I love you,” he said.

  The sun came out across her face, lighting up the world.

  “I thought you did,” she said. “But you were being such a weirdo about it.”

  “I’m still dangerous when I’m with you,” he said. “But I never want to be without you again.”

  “Sounds like my kind of plan,” she said. “Exactly my plan, actually.” She twined her tail around his.

  “We have to get out of here,” he said. “A lot’s happened — I have to tell you everything. But first …” He pulled away and hurried over to his trunk. “I need to know how bad it is.” He held out the soul reader to her. “Indigo, I did something terrible. I used my magic.”

  She took the soul reader out of his talons and threw it into the fountain.

  “Hey!” he protested, starting forward, but she stood in his way and flared her wings.

  “That thing doesn’t know your soul,” she said. “I know your soul. Tell me what you did.”

  “I enchanted a bracelet to stop Darkstalker,” he said. “And I brought you back from — you were — he did this spell — I brought you back.”

  “Oh,” she said. She glanced down at her scales, as if wondering whether they were real. “Wow. I guess I did miss something.”

  “So I’m probably evil now,” he said, his voice shaking. “Two spells like that — my soul could be almost gone. You need to know so you can get away from me.”

  “ROARGH,” Indigo cried. “Using your magic doesn’t make you evil, Fathom! Doing evil things makes you evil! Have you done anything evil lately?”

  “Well,” he said, faltering. “I betrayed my friend …”

  “The supervillain,” she put in.

  “He’s not —” Fathom hesitated. “Yeah, he sort of is.”

  “Let me guess,” she said. “You did something to stop him from killing loooooots and lots of innocent dragons.”

  “Um,” he said. “Yes. How did you know?”

  “Because I’ve met him,” she said, “and I could see where that was going. So, sorry, no, doesn’t count. Not evil.”

  “I broke my oath to Pearl —”

  “To save dragons,” she said.

  “To save you,” he said.

  She shook her head. “Not evil.”

  “Indigo —”

  “Shush. Fathom, listen. Our choices are what make us good or evil — what we do, how we help or hurt the world. You make the world a better place by being in it. With or without your magic, that’s always been true.”

  “Not really,” he said. “Without my magic, I’m no one special.”

  “How can you say that?” she said. “You’re an artist. You’re my friend. You’re kind and funny. I’d call that special.”

  “You’re biased,” he said, touching his snout to hers. He felt illuminated from the inside, as though he had luminescent scales lit up all the way through him.

  “I’m right,” she said with a grin. They stood like that for a moment, smiling at each other.

  “Besides,” she said, “you’ve stopped two actually evil animus dragons from destroying the world. That’s pretty impressive.”

  “Um,” he said. “Well, maybe.”

  “Maybe?” She tipped her head to the side.

  “I’m not sure yet if the enchantment on Darkstalker has worked. Clearsight just flew off with the bracelet and he’s meeting her and hopefully she can use it on him, but it’s possible she won’t be able to, and then he’ll be really mad, and then he might come back and … you know, destroy the world after all.”

  “WHAT?” she said. “That’s happening now? Right now?”

  “Right now,” he admitted. “That’s why we have to get out of here.”

  “You didn’t want to lead with that?” she cried. “You don’t think maybe that’s priority number one?” She whacked him with her tail. “I’m ready! Let’s go! Escape first, save the sappy pep talk for later!”

  He ducked away, wondering how he could feel like laughing at a time like this. Quickly he rolled up the scroll and stowed it in its black leather case. Then he lifted up the top of his desk and reached his front talons inside.

  The little octopus clambered joyfully up his arm and waved all his tentacles at Indigo.

  “Blob!” she cried happily. She scooped him up and settled him on top of her head. “Hang on tight, little guy. We’re going to be flying really fast.”

  Blob seized her horns and scrunched down as if he was ready to steer.

  Indigo and Fathom brushed their wings together, ran onto the balcony, and leaped into the air.

  Below them, dragons were spilling out of the palace, out of the school, out of the ravines and canyons of the Night Kingdom. The NightWings were fleeing, their terror of Darkstalker driving them out of their homes to some unknown, faraway place where they might be safe, where he might never find them.

  Even if Clearsight’s plan works, Fathom realized, that dagger he enchanted is going to make everyone think he’s still alive for a long time — that he’s out there hunting them.

  They might never come back here.

  I know I’ll never come back here.

  “Farewell, Night Kingdom,” he said softly.

  And then he turned and flew away forever, with Indigo right beside him.

  He found her near the peak of Agate Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Claws of the Clouds range. She was sitting in the mouth of a small cave, looking east to where the sun was rising over the twin peaks of Jade Mountain, casting dark green shadows over the valleys below.

  Darkstalker landed beside her, folding in his wings. It didn’t look as though she’d brought anything with her. Where was his scroll? Had she used his magic? He hadn’t felt any twinges from his spell on the scroll, so it seemed like she hadn’t. But then why steal it?

  “Did you kno
w,” Clearsight said thoughtfully, “that this won’t be the tallest mountain in Pyrrhia for much longer? There’s going to be an earthquake soon and this whole side will collapse. Then Jade Mountain will be the tallest.”

  “Is that supposed to be a metaphor?” Darkstalker said, flicking his tail back and forth. “Something about the most powerful dragon falling and someone else taking his place? Because it’s a bit muddled. Not your best work.”

  She actually laughed, just a little bit. “No,” she said. “Not a metaphor. I just thought it was interesting. A piece of the future that is definitely true.”

  “Anything about the future can be changed,” he said. “Even that. I could enchant the mountain to stay up if I wanted to. We can make the future turn out however we like.”

  “Not if we want different things,” she said, pulling a small yellow wildflower out of the dirt. She started shredding it between her claws. “Not if we can’t even agree on what is right and what is wrong.”

  He took a step toward her. “If you don’t want to be with me, just say so.” He wanted to know … but he wasn’t going to let her go. He loved her too much.

  “Nothing I did worked,” she said. “I thought I was so careful, and we still ended up here. All that studying, all the timeline scrolls. Now it’s all happened, and I can’t change any of it, and I still don’t know where it all went so wrong.”

  “Because it didn’t,” he said, taking another step closer. “It’s not wrong. We’re on the right path, Clearsight. We’re so close to our happy future. The bad part’s almost over. Almost all my enemies are dead.”

  “Including Indigo?” she asked. Her eyes lifted to meet his, and he froze for a moment. Does she know? Did she find the hidden spells? No … she’s just guessing.

  “What do you mean?” he said. “Indigo left. That was nothing to do with me.”

  “Maybe it started the first time you lied to me,” she said, turning to the sunrise again. “Or maybe it was losing Foeslayer and not being able to do anything about it. Maybe it was all the small moments where you felt threatened or powerless or out of control, and all the things you did to fight those feelings.”

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