Anise and Trevan had been walking for hours. They had left Eleanor with the Watchers. She seemed to barely have enough energy to stand let alone walk for any length of time. Anise wished she could have just rested, wished for some time to think about Colin. But she was thankful for this distraction at the same time. “We have to be close now, surely?” Trevan complained like a child. “My feet are starting to hurt.”
He can’t be an airship pirate, surely? Anise thought with a glance at the man. It was his fault they’d arrived so far off course. She almost said so, but decided it would be best not to. “So are mine, but we need to keep going.” Ahead of them the road branched off into two directions, one east and one west.
A loud sigh erupted from Trevan. “Great. Now which way?”
“West.” Anise said with conviction.
“How do you know?”
“Just a guess. We have a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right.”
Trevan shrugged, too tired to argue. “Fine.”
Half an hour later they came upon a small town and Trevan brightened. “This must be it!”
The houses were arranged around a large empty space in the middle – the town square. A large statue and fountain occupied the centre, with steps rising up to the statue from four sides. There was a group of young children chasing each other around the base of the statue. The statue was of a man looking as if he was going to take a step off the plinth it stood on. A gun was strapped to his back. Some soldier. Anise wondered if he fought for the Coalition, or the other side. The children were laughing; two girls were being chased by three boys.
“Excuse me, but we’re looking for a Silas St Claire. Does he live here?”
The children stopped and stared at them wide eyed and shook their heads.
“Can I speak to whoever is in charge?”
The children all pointed to each other.
“No, I mean an adult. Can I speak to an adult? We’re looking for someone, and maybe an adult will know where they are.”
The children shook their head and continued to point to each other in a lattice of criss-crossing arms.
“There’s no adults here, ma’am,” a boy who looked to be about ten, said.
“No adults?” Anise laughed. “Don’t be silly, there’s adults, just take us to one, please, that’s all we want.”
The boy shook his head of dirty brown hair. “There are none. Just us children. “That’s impossible!” Trevan said.
“Nuh-uh,” one of the girls, who had a halo of red hair, said. “We was the adults but not anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Anise asked.
“A man came one day and said he could make us young again. We was all old and sick. Some of us were dyin’.”
“And the man made all of you young again?”
“Yes,” another girl with long brown hair and big brown eyes mumbled, dipping her head. “We drank some special water he said he got from a magical fountain.”
Anise knew they were in the right area.
“So you’re by yourself? There’s no one to take care of you?”
They all shook their head. “There’s some older ones. Ones that are fifteen and sixteen. They were the ones that were close to dying. But now they can’t remember any of that. None of us can remember what our life was like when we were older.”
Anise looked at them, horrified. “You mean you don’t remember who you were as grownups?”
They all shook their heads at her.
“It’s erased all your memories? Rewound time just as if you’re kids and you haven’t already lived a full life?”
“Yes,” they all agreed, with vigorous nods.
‘What a horrible waste!” Trevan cried. “What’s the point of living if you can’t remember the good times and the bad. The mistakes and triumphs?”
Anise shook her head. She didn’t know the answer, and she didn’t really want to think on it too hard anyway.
“Where’s the nearest town to here?” she asked. She really didn’t want to leave these kids, but they seemed to be fending fairly well for themselves. “How long have you been like this? Changed back to children I mean?”
One boy who looked older than the rest shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe a couple of years? Two or three?”
Anise didn’t know what else to say, so nodded curtly to them. “Thank you for your time,” she said lamely. “And good luck.” They walked through the town square and out the other side of the modest cluster of houses. “Good luck?” she berated herself. “Good luck about what? Living your life over again? Making the same mistakes, not learning from anything that you had lived your whole life for?” She was disgusted.
“They seem happy enough,” Trevan said. “Isn’t that all that matters?”
Anise wondered if he was right. Was that all that mattered? If people were happy right then, at that point, did it matter what had come before, or not come before? She didn’t know so remained silent and soon she found what she was looking for.
She found the edge of the farm. It was silent. She moved though the forest at the edge and found the reason the farm was abandoned. All residents were in the field adjoining it, huddled around a familiar site that rooted her to the spot. She picked Silas out of the group. He was tall and wide. Someone like that stood out in a crowd. The casket was lowered slowly into the ground. A few people leaned down, throwing flowers and other offerings of respect onto the dark fresh soil, and then they slowly moved away. Soon, only Silas remained. He looked like a statue. He hadn’t moved and remained standing. Anise moved from her spot on the hill and made her way down to William’s grave.
She averted her eyes from the rectangular patch of ground. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Silas turned slowly and looked at her his eyes not registering anything. “Thanks,” he mumbled only out of common courtesy.” And then a flicker of life returned to his brown eyes, enough to ask, “Who are you?”
“Someone that can help.”
“What, can you bring him back?” he said with a laugh filled with disgust.
She shook her head. “No. But I can help you. I know you’re to be the next Secret Carrier.”
Life bloomed in his eyes at that, and they widened. “What? How do you know about that?”
“I’m one too.”
“There’s more than one? More than just me?”
“Yes. There’s a few of them – us.”
“Well I’m not one of you, yet. My friend William was.” Silas threw his hand toward the dirt. “He asked me to be it after him.”
“The fountain of youth,”Anise gathered.
“Yes,” Silas said with a raise of his eyebrows. “Are you one too? Is that your power? Granting people their youth again?”
“No. We’re all different. I’m alchemy.”
“Alchemy. That’s much better than making people young again. It seems pointless doing so.”
“It seems pointless turning lead into gold too.”
“Imagine how rich you could be!’ Silas cried.
“Not me,” Anise said. “ I couldn’t use it to make myself rich, but I can use it to help others.
“Well that’s just fine. I don’t want to make myself young, I’m young as it is!”
“Maybe you’ll feel different about it when you’re older.”
Silas shrugged and turned from the mound of dirt that was his friend. “Maybe, but somehow I don’t think so. I don’t want to live my life over again, it’s been hard enough this first time.”
Anise nodded, sympathetic. She wondered if she would want to live hers over again, if she was ever given the chance. “I guess there’s a downside to everything,” she said.
“So why are you here anyway?”
“I’m here to warn you.”
“Warn me? About what? If you are here to warn me I wish you would have come earlier and warned me and William about the bear that killed him.”
She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m not sure I could have done anything. You were already nominated when I found out about you. I saw your picture, not William’s.”
“Yes. The Consortium, the group that grants people the secrets, they told me about you, and the other Secret Carriers.”
“Because someone bad is coming who wants to take the power for himself.”
“But why you? Can’t this Consortium come and do it themselves?”
Anise shook her head. “I wish, but they have rules…”
“Rules!” Silas through his hands in the air. “There are always rules, nothing is ever easy!”
“I’m sorry,” Anise repeated. They were walking through the forest, back towards Silas’ house.
The farm house came into view. Anise could make out Eleanor and Trevan. Trevan in his white shirt, and Eleanor in her white nurse’s dress, stark against the doorway of the barn, looking small and fragile. She watched Silas turn his face from her and wipe his eyes. She turned away herself. If Silas started crying, she would start and she didn’t want that. If she started, she didn’t think she would be able to stop. She needed to be strong – she was the leader, somehow, even though no one ever asked her to be.
Silas reached the other two a few steps ahead of Anise.
“Who are you?” he asked in a voice that was shocked and confused.
“They came with me. We are all like you. Well, like you will be.”
Silas raised a thick dark eyebrow. “You mean you’re like William? You can make people young again?”
“No, we’re different. We all have different Secrets. This,” she indicated Ellory, “Is Captain Trevan, he’s an airship pi-,” she stopped herself. “Captain. And he can time travel forward or backward in time.”
“But not too far.” Ellory replied. “I can only seem to jump back or forward a couple of years maximum. It seems that whoever has given me the power has put restriction on it.”
“The Consortium, they certainly like their rules.” This was Eleanor.
“And this is-”
“Eleanor Murphy,” she replied sticking her hand out and following it up with a curtsey. “I’m a nurse with the Emperor’s Royal Military Hospital. And I can make people live forever.”
Silas’ eyes widened. “Forever? That’s an awfully long time.”
Eleanor seemed to shrink back into the shadows of the barn door. “Yes, I realize that now.”
Silas turned large brown eyes to Anise. “And what about you?”
This time it was Anise’s turn to be embarrassed. “Alchemy,” she mumbled.
“What?” Silas leaned into her, a hand cocked to his ear.
“I can do alchemy!” she nearly yelled.
Silas shook his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.”
“It means she can change plain, useless old metal,” Trevan said, pointing to a large rusted pitchfork that was leaning against the wall, “like that, into gold.”
A gasp escaped the young man. “You can?”
“Yes, but it’s not all that easy. I need equipment. I can’t do it as easily as all you can, just by saying a few words and waving your hands around!”
Eleanor stiffened. “It’s not that easy,” she said sticking her lip out in a pout.
“It takes a lot out of you,” Trevan added and Eleanor agreed.
“I don’t know how easy it was for William. I never asked. He didn’t tell me about it until…” his voice hitched and he stopped, turning away for a moment and clearing his throat.
Anise felt a lump forming in her own throat.
Silas turned back, his chocolate eyes shiny, “he didn’t tell me about it until right at the end. With his last words. I don’t know what’s involved.”
“So you haven’t been marked yet?” Anise said, almost gratefully. “And you haven’t inherited his Watcher?” she looked around her, and into the darkness of the barn to see if she could make out a shadow hiding in the background, hidden, just like her, Eleanor’s and Trevan’s – who she hadn’t even seen yet.
“Watcher?” Silas shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Trevan and Eleanor looked at her. Eleanor looked confused and Trevan’s ice-blue eyes narrowed with suspicion. Damn, she’d let the cat out of the bag. “Never mind, it’s not important. What is important is you need to do your test. You need to visit the Consortium.”
Silas shook his head vehemently, dark hair falling in as sheaf over his forehead. “No. Whatever it is, I don’t want to do it.”
“But you have to, if you want to take on the Secret.”
“That’s just it. I don’t. I don’t want to. I can’t. I’m not good enough. I’m not responsible enough. I’m not like William. William was always the more confident one. He was like my brother. My older brother. Dependable.”
“And you’re not? Dependable, I mean.”
“Well, I don’t know anything besides this,” he gestured widely, taking in the barn, the fields, the large house that stood at the edge of the trees. “I’m just a boy who’s grown up on a farm. I’m not special. I don’t deserve to be.”
“Well, your friend William obviously thought you were,” Eleanor said, stepping out of the safety of the doorway. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t’ve asked you. He saw something in you. Being a Secret Carrier isn’t something to take lightly.”
Silas should his head like a child having a tantrum. “No! I don’t want to and you can’t make me!”
He looks ridiculous Anise thought. He was wide as an ox, with muscles stretching the fabric of his shirt on his arms and chest.
“No, you’re right. We can’t. But someone needs to, and you’ve been nominated.”
“Silas?” A thin, reedy voice called out, and a woman appeared at the door of the farm house. She was thin, almost disappearing inside the folds of a simple dress. Dark hair mostly turned grey was piled on top of her head. Her brows knit together. “Silas! What are you doing out there jabbering away!”
“I was just paying my respects to William, mother.”
The woman’s dark eyes softened slightly. “Oh, yes. I remember now.”
The woman detached herself from the door and hobbled down the slope towards them, supporting herself with a gnarled, twisted stick for a cane. The woman strode straight up to Anise and peered at her with eyes clouded by age. “And who are these young’uns? I’ve never seen ‘em before in my life!”
Trevan chuckled at that. He was no young’un, verging on middle aged.
“They’re some people I’ve just met mother. People who want to help me.”
His mother raised her stick as if they were a plague of locusts and started swinging it around. Anise leapt out of the way. “The St. Claire’s need no help! We can manage fine on our own. Always have, always will!”
Silas put a large hand on his mother’s shoulder. “It’s okay, mother. I can handle things here. I have things under control. Just go back inside.”
His mother looked vaguely at him, not really seeing him. “You’re just like your father was. He always said he had things under control, even though I knew, I just knew that he didn’t. But he didn’t want to worry me.” She laughed loudly, a laugh that turned into a wracking cough that doubled the old woman in half, and she leaned on her stick unsteadily.
She spat loudly and straightened, though still remained slightly hunched. This time she placed a hand on his shoulder and patted it gently. “I trust you Silas. You’ve always been the calm, rational one. Kept your father and me on the straight and narrow. Whatever it is these people are wanting, I know you’ll make the right decision.” And with that the woman shuffled her way slowly back up the dead grass of the slope to the house.
Anise watched as Silas followed her every step, until she disappeared back inside. His large shoulders slumped, and then he too, straightened, a spark of life in his eyes that was not there a moment before. The blanket of sadness that had dulled him, that had been there as he had stood next to William’s grave had disappeared. “If I take this on, could I save my mother? She’s all I have left now. And I don’t think she has much time left.”
Anise smiled at him. “Yes, you can.”
“I’ll do it, then. I’ll take the test. Whatever is involved.” He winced. “It’s not painful is it?”
“It wasn’t for me,” Anise said. “Not physically anyway.” She looked to Trevan and Eleanor, and they both nodded.
“Okay, let’s go, then. If we don’t do this now I might change my mind again.”
“Okay, hold on to me,” Trevan said, striding forward.
Anise shook her head. “No. It’s too dangerous. We’ve already lost…” She swallowed as the lump in her throat grew bigger and tears burned at the corners of her eyes. “It’s too dangerous with three of us. We have to go another way.”
of the corner of her eye Anise saw her Watcher motioning to her. She excused
herself from Trevan, Eleanor and Silas and went to him.
“We need to get back to London, to see the Consortium.”
The hood nodded. “I know, and I’ve already found a way for you to get there. Do you know the Tower of Knowledge?”
Anise did, and she nodded, her face contorting with emotion. “It was where Colin and I,” her words were cut off in a choke. “Where we got all the books for testing my secret out. Making sure it worked.”
The hood nodded again. “This is where you must go now. To the top floor. You will find the way to get back to London.”
“But, the top floor, it’s locked. Forbidden!” Anise cried.
The Watcher shrugged. “I am not allowed to interfere. I can only get you where you want to go. The rest is up to you.”
Anise felt like shouting at him, but instead balled her hands into fists that dug into her palms.
“What am I looking for?”
Anise thought she heard laughter from within the darkness that was the Watcher’s face.
“You will know when you see it.”
She huffed angrily and blew her cheeks out with frustration. She stalked off, back to where the others waited for her outside the barn. She walked through the warm comforting darkness of the barn, the ruffle of chicken feathers and the snort of horses following her.
“We have to go to the Tower of Knowledge.”
This garnered blank stares from everyone. She was surprised that Eleanor had never been to it and so she asked her.
“I learned taking care of my mother when I was a child. I was shown the rest by the other nurses, and I learned the rest on the field.”
stood in front of the door on the 7th floor of the Tower of Knowledge.
It was locked and needed to be opened with a special key card that only the
Elders possessed, and only they were allowed to access the room.
“Where do these Elder’s keep their keys?” said a gruff voice behind Anise’s shoulder – Trevan.
“Around their necks, on a chain.”
Trevan nodded. “Stay here, I’ll be back shortly.”
had never been to the city. He’d grown up on the farms outside the city. The Tower of Knowledge was an entire new world.
Ignoring Anise to stay with the rest of them, he snuck down the stairs,
following Trevan at a safe distance. He watched from the safety of a bookshelf,
pretending to look at some books about how automobiles are made. He peered
through a gap between the books and watched as Trevan moved silently,
miraculously quietly in his heavy black boots, up behind one of the brown robed
Elders who were the Librarians. He watched wide eyed as Trevan removed a long
curved blade, that was thin, almost like a needle and like a ghost reached to
Elder’s neck as the man was standing facing an imposing wall of books. In one
swift movement the blade cut through the thin chain around the Librarian’s neck
and a second later Trevan’s hand fell on the man’s shoulder.
The Elder jumped, and from Silas’ hiding spot he saw Trevan slid the chain and card from the man’s neck.
“Oh I’m sorry to scare you, sir,” Trevan said naturally. “I was hoping to ask you were to find…” Trevan quickly pocketed the thin card, “books on…um, ships?”
The Elder who was a good foot shorter than Trevan with wild white hair and eyebrows that had a life of their own, looked at him and nodded. “Oh, you’ll want the second floor for any books involving ships – both water and air based.”
Trevan smiled. The gesture was more fear inducing than calming, a scar that ran across his face from eye to jaw hitching up in a hideous way. “Thank you.” He turned away and his eye fell on Silas almost immediately, and the false smile fell away into a genuine scowl. As he passed he grabbed Silas by the collar and dragged him along, back up the stairs. “What are you doing here? I thought I told everyone to stay where they were?” he growled, shoving Silas up the steps ahead of him.
“Yes, but, I just…I just wanted to see,” Silas said, tripping as he rushed back up the stairs away from Trevan and his belt full of wicked looking weapons.
Trevan appeared at the landing and held a thin card made of metal with various lines and holes punched into it. He smiled triumphantly which caused a shiver to run down Anise’s spine.
She berated herself for acting like that. The poor man can’t help what he looks like! She wondered how he had got the scar in the first place.
Trevan shoved through all of them and slid the card in the slot next to the door. It made a small popping sound and Trevan tugged on the heavy iron door handle and stepped through, the rest following behind.
They stood in a small circular room. There was a small window, with wooden shutters on either side, a large fireplace next to the window, and every other available wall was taken up by book cases.
“What are we looking for exactly?” Eleanor said staring around the room wide-eyed.
Silas turned and looked at the door they had all come through. The one and only door in the room. “But-“
“Not an actual door. It will look different. Like a heat shimmer.”
“There!” it was Trevan. He was pointing at the fireplace. In the hearth a fire was blazing. Anise was about to tell him that it didn’t mean an actual fire, and then she noticed it – a larger patch of shimmering air just in front of the fire.
Slowly she walked up to the fireplace. She could feel the heat on her skin and face. The shimmering wall was inches from the flickering flames.
“We have to go through that? Into the fire?” It was Eleanor, her voice was high and thin with fear.
“No, not actually into the fire. The door is right in front of the fire. We have to think about the Consortium as we walk through the door. Those of us who have been there, everyone besides Silas, you remember what the Consortium looks like? Where it is in London?”
Eleanor and Trevan nodded. Silas just looked lost and confused, like a scared little boy.
He took a step back from the fire. “Look, we don’t have to do-“
“Yes, we do!” Anise said sternly. She grabbed his hand. He was bigger and stronger than her. “Trevan, grab his other hand please. We’ll go through, the three of us together.” She caught Eleanor’s eye. The woman looked small and scared, like a light breeze would blow her away. “Eleanor,”
“Ellie, call me Ellie please,” she said softly, twisting her nurses cap nervously in her hands.
“Ellie. You’ll be okay coming through after us, by yourself? Just think of the Consortium. As clearly as you can. You remember what it looks like? The building with the dot within the circle?”
Eleanor nodded. Her blue eyes seemed far too big for her small face.
“Okay. We’ll see you in a few minutes.” She caught Trevan’s eye. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” he answered. Between them Silas stiffened. She yanked his arm, and on the other side she saw Trevan do the same. They were the same height, she noticed, Silas towering over both of them by a good foot and a half.
She stepped through the shimmer, feeling the strangeness on her skin – as if she stepped into a giant vat of champagne, small bubbles popping and fizzing all around and on her. It was a strange yet pleasant sensation. And then it was gone. Anise always came out of it expecting her clothes to be soaking wet and each time was amazed to find she was still bone dry. She and Trevan stepped forward, towards the dark rectangle of the Consortium’s door – the familiar symbol of dot within the centre of a circle painted over the door in dripping purple paint. A moment later Eleanor appeared behind them where a moment before there was only empty street.
Anise tightened her grip on Silas’ hand as she felt him try to pull away.
“Come on,” she said firmly, and tugged on his arm, dragging him into the ominous dark of the warehouse. Before the light of the street was cut off completely, she saw the Watchers, three of them now, step from the patch of shimmering air and slink off, staying hidden.
They walked, led by the spotlights shining down from all around them. They reached the island and finally released their ward.
Silas stood shaking, looking like a frightened animal caught in the jaws of a metal trap.
Anise put a hand lightly on his arm and his snatched it away, flinching. “It’s okay,” she said, soothingly.
He looked at her, his brown eyes large with fear.
“I don’t like being kept in the dark.” He said. “I mean that both literally and…the other way too.”
Anise put a hand to her mouth to muffle an inappropriate laugh. She shouldn’t laugh at the man. She remembered how scared she was when she had been here, when she hadn’t known what was going on or what was happening to her, or even why she was there in the first place. Just like Silas. He knew his friend was a Secret Carrier, and that he had wanted Silas to take it on, but he’d been unable to tell him anything more before he had died.
This time Trevan stepped in. “It’s nothing to be afraid of son,” he said. Anise watched the pirate and saw him shudder. “They’ll just show you some things and then let you go get the secret tattooed on you. Then you’ll be able to…” he shrugged. “Make people young again.” Anise saw some emotion pass across Trevan’s face but couldn’t read it.
“What if I don’t want to do it? What if I’ve changed my mind?”