Chapter 16 — Angels and Devils
Alden's wound was starting to concern the group.
"This would be a great time for us to discover healing magic," Rika said, looking uneasy.
"Can't be done," Hailey said grimly, while Jessica checked the bandage. "Trust me, I've tried everything I could think of."
"I'm probably okay though, right? It's just bleeding," Alden asked. He was trying to keep himself from panicking. He'd never been seriously injured before, and the throbbing in his arm was getting worse.
"Relax, Zack," Rika said, patting him on the shoulder. He winced as a new wave of pain shot down his arm. "It's just a surface-level cut. Looks way worse than it is. Worst case, it gets infected and we lop the arm off. No biggie."
He tried to twist away from her, but Jessica held him back firmly, waving a finger in his face and 'hmm'ing loudly. Alden slumped back and let her continue to examine it.
Hailey took a deep breath. "I think we need to take him to the doctor."
Rika shook her head. "No way. We can't get that far unnoticed. That's practically across town."
"You can't get that far," Hailey replied. "I can, and I can take him with me."
"Flying?" Alden asked excitedly. After he'd seen Hailey's majestic dive out of the clouds, he'd been dreaming of pulling off the same stunt himself. One day, he promised himself, he'd manage to do that on his own.
"Yeah, but it's not gonna be fun," she sighed.
"So you take him to the doctor, he turns Zack in to the sheriff, and then what—you just float away?" asked Rika.
"I don't think the doctor would turn anyone in. He's pretty well known for his discretion. Besides that, I don't think anyone's really looking for Zack. They only ever mentioned you."
"Rika, I think it's a good idea," Alden said, feeling woozy. The excitement coupled with the blood loss had him lightheaded.
She shrugged. "Fine. I guess I'll stay here with Squeaky then."
Hailey's eyes narrowed. "Jess."
Jessica looked up. Hailey pointed at Rika, then punched her own hand, followed by a thumbs up. Jessica nodded with a small smile.
"What did you just tell her?" Rika asked, looking uneasy.
"That beating you up is totally fine. I've gotta grab a few things. We'll go as soon as the sun gets low."
For a few intense moments, it was fun—but it took a lot of buildup for Alden to get there.
Hailey took him to the rear balcony, and Jessica double-checked his bandage to make sure it was tightly strapped to his arm. Hailey was wearing the same tight leather jacket as before, with her hair pinned back in place and pouches across her belt. This time, however, she also had a sort of harness that looked like several thick black car seatbelts set around her chest.
"This is safe, right?" Alden asked, suddenly apprehensive again.
"Jess and I have flown together a few times. We only used the harness once," Hailey answered, double-checking the straps. "I don't like using it, but I'm not sure how your extra weight might throw me off, plus I don't want you losing grip because you're injured. Better safe than sorry."
"Right," Alden said, still eyeing the straps like a dangerous animal.
"Look on the bright side, you get to go flying," Rika smirked. She was lurking just inside the sliding door. Alden shot her a dark look, but she only cackled.
Hailey took his shoulders and pulled him against her chest, strapping him in facing outward. Jessica checked the straps again, then stood back to give them room. Alden stood there awkwardly, pressed up against Hailey who was only an inch taller than him, wondering what was supposed to happen next.
"So do we jump off or something…?" he asked.
"Nah, just needed to get my mind right," Hailey replied. She put her hand behind Alden's head and grabbed something he couldn't see. "Hang on now."
Without any more warning, Hailey's legs coiled, and she sprang into the air out over the forest. Her arm wrapped around his chest and the straps made a balanced grip, but he still felt a huge unpleasant pull yanking him skyward. For a moment, it seemed like they'd just jumped ten feet up, but Alden didn't feel anything akin to flying. Hailey didn't seem concerned, even as they started falling back down again. There was a brief, terrifying moment of panic as Alden expect them to crash straight into a tree.
There was a fwoomp of wind, as if a massive pair of wings had just beat the air around them. Hailey surged forward and rolled herself around the tree, dragging Alden along for the ride. Another fwoomp and they gained altitude. Alden could feel Hailey's heavy breath as she exerted herself with every wingbeat.
"How are you doing that?" he shouted over the rush of wind. He could see now why Hailey had worn the aviator cap, as his own ears felt like they were being torn away.
Hailey didn't reply, but another heavy wingbeat took them up to the height of the trees. Every wingbeat was a mix of painful force crunching into his chest from the straps and terrifying falls as they began to descend again. Adrenaline was beginning to surge through him from the constant push-pull of safety and terror. He began taking deep breaths, trying to force himself to be calm.
Another heavy wingbeat, coupled with a loud grunt from Hailey, and they broke above the treeline. There was a softer thump of an impact, and suddenly they were gliding. Alden opened his eyes. The orange sunset was shining directly at them, rays of light filtered through the taller evergreens dotting the hills before them.
"Wow," Alden gasped. It was breathtaking—in more ways than one, as he gulped down oxygen from the bumpy flight up.
"Yeah," Hailey said, and for the first time since they'd met, Alden heard joy in her voice. It was still tinged with a bittersweet longing, but there was at least some form of happiness lurking inside that haunted face. "It's the first thing I ever wanted to do."
"Yeah. It was everything I hoped it'd be, too. Here—" she said, and she pulled her arms back behind her tight. Alden clenched his fists in anticipation.
They leaned forward, and Alden could have sworn he felt real wings sprouting out of Hailey's back that were folding into a dive. They picked up speed at an alarming rate, and soon the tree trunks were whipping past them at lightspeed. Alden saw the ground rushing up to meet them, and let out a cry of panic. Suddenly, he felt arms wrapped around him. Hailey pulled him into a tight bear hug, despite the harness.
There was a shift, and Alden could tell the wings were unfurling again as their descent turned. Suddenly they were gliding again at an absurd speed. Hailey was in absolute control. They sped past tree after tree, clearing them by centimeters. Alden swore he felt branches brushing him as they went by, but he also believed that at their speed, even the slightest impact would have been disastrous.
Whole minutes could have gone by for all he knew before they shot back out of the trees as the hills dropped away below them once more. Hailey had brought him above a sea of green, where the hills rolled out in every direction in a huge bowl. Their altitude increased just enough to bring them back to an easy glide, gently riding the wind once again in the golden sunset and cloudy sky.
Hailey let out a whoop of exhilaration. Alden laughed in delight. "I've never gone that fast before," Hailey said, laughing.
"Could have warned me first!" Alden said, but he was grinning in spite of himself.
"That wouldn't have been as fun," Hailey said.
"That was the coolest thing I've ever done."
"I know, right?" Hailey laughed again. "I'll let you know first if I'm going to do it again though, okay?"
"Yeah." Alden winced, feeling the pain returning to his arm. He'd forgotten about it in the rush of the flight, and tried his best to hide it. He wanted to keep flying. Hailey noticed it though.
"Oh god, I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?"
"No, you're fine," Alden said, but winced again with the next light wingbeat to keep them steady.
He felt a motion above him, like Hailey was shaking her head. "No, this could actually be serious. I'll get you to the doctor now. I shouldn't have taken you out here."
They flew much more gently for a few minutes, as Hailey swung them back around to return to the town from another direction. Alden could tell she was making it a much easier glide now, with lighter and fewer wingbeats. He marveled at her control and power. Even with his limited knowledge and experience, he knew that what she was doing was incredibly difficult. He wanted to reach out with his own will and see if he could probe out what she was doing, but he didn't want to risk messing something up, or making her upset.
Instead, he just enjoyed the view and ignored the pain in his arm as best he could. The air was chilly but not uncomfortable, and the forest air was refreshing. As Alden looked out over the expanse of trees, he spotted a small clearing where there seemed to be signs of life beyond the scattering birds—a faint plume of smoke rising from what looked like a cabin, just barely visible from their distance.
"Do you see that?" he asked, pointing.
"The clearing? Yeah, some weirdos in grey robes live out there. Looks kinda like a cult."
"You mean Cinza and her people?"
Hailey shrugged, which sent them wobbling a little before she stabilized their glide again. "I never met any of them, so I don't know. Is Cinza the tiny crazy girl with the grey hair?"
"Yeah. They live out here?"
"They camp out, grow some of their own food, hunt a little. I'm kind of jealous, actually," Hailey said wistfully. "I think I'd like living like that for a while. Not the cult part though."
They flew silently for another few minutes. A few birds glided nearby, eyeing them with suspicion. They seemed too afraid to approach the strange figure of Hailey with Alden strapped beneath.
"Why did you, then?" he asked suddenly.
"Take me out here."
"Oh," Hailey said. "I guess… it was just instinct. I was going to go out flying anyway. I only stopped by because I saw Jessica signalling."
"She signaled?" Alden asked. He hadn't noticed anything.
"Yeah. We have a system. When she's in trouble or needs something, she makes a certain color flame appear near our place in a certain spot. I check for it whenever I can. She must have placed it right before you guys got into it."
"Wow. That's really smart." Alden thought for a moment. "Why didn't you ask for help, though?"
"You were alone for a whole year, right? If you and Jessica needed help, why didn't you just ask?"
"We… weren't alone. There were five of us. Now there's just two. Asking for help was too dangerous," Hailey said. She drifted them lower, closer to the treeline where they wouldn't be as visible to the swiftly approaching town.
"Now? I don't know. I want Jess to be better, of course I do. But there's some scary people out there. I don't know who we can trust."
"You trust Rika though?" Alden asked.
"You sound like you don't."
"I mean, I like her…"
"No kidding," Hailey said, laughing.
"You've got a massive crush on her, Zack."
"Oh," Alden said, hesitating. Even to himself, it was pretty obvious. "Yeah, I guess I do. Still—"
"You've got a crush and you still don't know if she's actually cool, is that it?"
Hailey hesitated. "She has a pretty bad rep around here, and a lot of it is earned. I don't think she's a bad person though. I think she's just very single-minded. She always has one goal in mind, and she goes after it regardless of anything else. No matter what."
"So if her one goal is to find her father?"
"Then anything that helps her find her dad is fair game."
"That's pretty harsh," Alden said.
"Yeah. It means she might not do anything, or she might do everything."
"She told me she's trying to be better at keeping promises."
Hailey dropped them below the treeline again with the town closing in fast. "Then maybe she's getting better. I hope she is. I don't like what the rest of her friends did to her."
"What did they do?"
She hesitated again. "I'm sorry. You seem like a nice guy, Zack, but that's not my story to tell. I'm not sure if I even know it, since apparently magic was involved the whole time and I never knew that part." She swooped down low as they approached the side-street where the doctor's house was located. "Ask her sometime, and hopefully she gives you the truth."
"I thought you said that wasn't gonna be fun," Alden asked as they came in for a landing.
"Wait for it," Hailey said grimly. As they swooped up to land upright on the grass just within the treeline, Alden felt a hard tug at his arm. He'd managed to ignore it for so long, but the pain had returned tenfold.
As Hailey landed and unstrapped him, his arm began to throb madly. His chest felt like hard wires had been cutting into him for hours. His bones were sprouting sores left and right. He was about to stumble and fall when Hailey caught him.
"It's okay, it's okay. I've got you. Don't worry, this is normal."
"Why— what—" Alden stammered, trying to catch his breath.
"You don't have your flying muscles," Hailey answered. "Took Jessica a couple tries to stand just short flights, and she still doesn't like it. You probably don't even have the headache yet."
On cue, Alden's head started pounding like a drum. He felt Hailey lift him up and carry him towards the doctor's office as gently as she could manage—which was surprisingly far less gentle than Rika, though without the added current of electricity surging through her grip.
"Why don't you get it as bad?" Alden asked, gritting his teeth.
"Well, I do this every day," Hailey answered. "Or most days, really. Also, I work out a lot more than you. Your body doesn't have any endurance. You need more cardio especially, but your muscles need work too."
"Oh," Alden said dumbly.
"Don't worry about it too much. A lot of guys don't realize how little effort they put into keeping themselves in shape. You've got plenty of time to improve."
"Also, you're wounded in your arm, so that doesn't help either, especially with the headache. That's blood loss for you."
"You got it." Hailey walked straight up to the doctor's door and tapped the door with her foot, just loud enough for anyone inside to hear. She helped Alden back to his feet. He still leaned heavily on her for support, but at least he had some dignity before the doctor arrived.
"Yes, now, what is it?" came a booming voice from within. Alden looked up to find a red-haired, well-built man with a wide, thick moustache staring at him with an intense, friendly gaze.
"Hi, reverend," Hailey said. "My friend—"
"Good heavens, look at that arm!" the man cried. He swung the door open immediately and ushered her in. "To the bed in the first room. On the double, Miss Winscombe!"
In only a few moments Alden found himself swept into a bed, his arm laid out flat and the man dressed in an apron and sterile gloves pulling his sleeve away. The doctor (or reverend, or both; Alden couldn't determine which from the surroundings, as it seemed like a perfectly ordinary clinic room in every respect) was a whirlwind of activity, pulling out bandages and supplies from drawers behind him without so much as a glance. His eyes were focused entirely on Alden's wounded shoulder.
"I put the bandages on myself, but I don't know if I did it righ—" Hailey started, but once again the doctor interrupted her.
"You did well, Hailey dear. The bleeding was stemmed. Is the wound fresh?"
"In the last couple of hours."
"How did it occur?"
The man smiled. "Let me ask differently: what actually cut him? I need not know anything more for now."
"The edge of a cupboard."
"Ah." He began to unwrap the bandage. "Hailey, please help me out here—do you see any foreign material in the cut?"
"No, I don't. I think Je… my friend cleaned it all out."
"Excellent." He leaned in close to Alden's shoulder. "Now, what's your name?"
"Zack," Alden answered. With the energy exuded by the doctor and the mounting headache from his wound, Alden was feeling very light-headed and overwhelmed. "Who are you?"
"The good Doctor, Henry Smith at your service," he answered, plucking up a bottle of something Alden didn't recognize. "Now, I'm terribly sorry, but this is going to sting a bit."
Before Alden could react, he poured it all over the wound. The sensation shot through his arm up to his skull. He flinched and tried to tear away, but Doctor Smith had him firmly held and refused to let Alden wriggle away, grinning triumphantly.
"There, wasn't so bad was it? Now, on a scale of one to ten, how is your current pain?"
"Eight," Alden choked out, his eyes blurry.
"Well, that calls for some medication," he declared. The doctor pulled open another drawer, retrieving more bandages and a bottle of something else. "Here, just a moment now."
"Reverend, are you sure about this?" Hailey asked in a panic, but the doctor was already doing something near Alden's arm. He strained his eyes to see, but his vision was still blurry from the last burst of pain.
A moment later, a sharp pain, and Alden's eyes began to go dark. He didn't even have time to panic before everything had faded out.
"Wait," Alden said, his eyes fluttering open.
The doctor was gone, and it was suddenly night-time. The room was mostly dark, though there was a faint artificial light shining through the edges of the door into the hallway.
"—hwat?" came a mumble to his side. Hailey was there, having nodded off in a chair he hadn't seen before, next to the window. She looked up bleary-eyed, noticing he was awake. "Hey."
"Hi." Alden looked around, but saw no sign of Doctor Smith or anyone else. "How long was I out?"
"Hours." Hailey stifled a yawn. "You feeling better?"
He moved his arm experimentally. It felt numb and stiff, but mostly okay. "Yeah, a bit… You stayed here this whole time?"
"Well you're new here and you don't really have anyone else. I wasn't going to leave you alone in a strange place," she said matter-of-factly.
"You sound surprised," Hailey noted.
"Rika described this town so much worse than what I'm seeing."
She shrugged. "Rika's never been well-liked around here, before or after all this stuff with magic. I think her perspective's pretty skewed."
"She can't be totally wrong though. Plenty of people are lying and scheming."
Hailey laughed. "Lying and scheming? What are you two doing anyway?"
"Well, we were going to steal something, but I guess that's not a thing anymore."
"I'm sorry your elaborate heist didn't go as planned." She grinned.
Alden liked her already. Hailey was kind, and she'd stuck around with him when she hadn't needed to. "I just feel guilty about not helping her."
"What do you mean?"
"When we first showed up at your place, and Rika was fighting with Jessica."
"You're really lucky you didn't actually hurt her," Hailey said threateningly.
Alden raised a hand in apologetic surrender, then winced from the pain and let it drop again. Concern flashed in her eyes. "I'm okay. But what I meant wasn't that I wanted to hurt Jessica. I mean, Rika was in trouble and I didn't do a thing to help."
"Do you think you should have?"
"Well, Jessica did start throwing fireballs first," Alden said petulantly.
"You guys dove into our apartment uninvited, and it's not like she can call the police," Hailey protested.
"And Rika always looks like trouble, yeah, I know. But still, I could have done something. Even if I'd just helped get her out of the way, or helped distract Jessica or something. I just stood as far away as I could and watched."
Hailey frowned. "Not everyone's meant to fight, you know."
"You did pretty good, I think."
She shook her head. "No way, I just panicked and hit you guys with anything I could think of. I threw my phone at you, man. How is that a good weapon at all?"
"Well, it hurt."
She laughed. "Thanks. But seriously, I was just grasping at straws. I'm no fighter either."
"I think you're underestimating yourself."
"Well, maybe you're doing that too."
"You still stuck around Rika through a bunch of stuff, if I'm understanding it right. That includes being chased by the police and God knows what else. You guys only split up willingly because you got hurt, right? So I think you've shown you're willing to back her up."
"But in our first fight—"
"First fight? Are you expecting more of this?" Hailey asked, looking concerned.
"I mean, doesn't it kind of seem inevitable?" Alden said nervously. "When you've got magic spells like this and lots of people who want to use them, and only a limited supply—you guys have gotta have a page, right? Since you don't know anyone else who awakened."
"...Yeah, we do."
"So if people can only awaken through those pages, and there's a limited number of them to go around, then people are gonna fight over them."
"You don't think people can learn to share?" Hailey asked, but she sounded doubtful even of her own words.
"If you'd seen the council meeting where they revealed a new one..."
"My friends and I never fought over it. We argued about a lot of things, but that piece of paper was always fine where it was."
"You had all read from it though, right?"
"Everyone who wanted to, yeah," Hailey answered in a melancholy tone. "I wish I knew where they were right now."
"Term's over, and none of them are from Rallsburg. They didn't have much reason to stay. I wouldn't either, except that… well, Jessica can't leave."
Hailey stood and stared out the shaded window.
"Where are you from? Not around here, then."
"Nope. Emerald city girl, born and raised. I came out here for school because I wanted an adventure, something way out of the way but still with good prospects. Also 'cause I thought it'd annoy my mom." She sighed. "Didn't expect this."
"That's… why I came here too," Alden said. Hailey turned to him, looking interested. "I didn't have anything going on in my life, and I had a clue pointing me this way. So I hopped the train and ran straight into Rika when I got here."
Alden pulled out the envelope and briefly recounted the whole tale, just as he had for Kendra and Rika.
"We never did anything like that with magic," Hailey said, looking pensive. "I don't think something like that should even be possible, since you can't directly affect other people." She shuddered. "That's so awful. I can't imagine being forced to forget someone like that, just completely vanishing off the map."
"I can't either, but apparently it happened. Now I feel like something's missing all the time, and I've got no clue how to find them."
"Are you scared?"
"No, not really. I don't know what it's like to have them around, so it's not like I miss them."
"I would be," she said. "If I just had someone disappear out of the blue like that, everything gone, as if they were nev…" She trailed off. Her eyes were screwed up, as if she were trying to remember something on the tip of her tongue but couldn't quite place it.
"I don't know… wait, do you hear that?"
There was a thump, then the click of a door. It wasn't the front door, though—it came from the rear of the house. Hailey's hand jumped to her throat, where the tourmaline stone hung from a sturdy, tight chain. Alden felt a surge of relief knowing that such a potent force was on his side this time around.
"Coming, coming! Wait just a moment, please!" came the cry of Doctor Smith, hurrying down the stairs from the upper floor of the clinic, which apparently also served as his home. Hailey released her grip, but they both stayed quite silent, unsure who might be calling from the back door at such a late hour.
"I don't mind being roused at this hour, but tell me, why not the front door?" Smith's voice echoed down the hall easily, though they couldn't make out the replies. Hailey glanced at Alden, a finger to her lips. He nodded. Despite what he'd said, they both felt the town less trustworthy on average than most.
"Nevermind that. A bit of excitement in town today. My nose has seen worse. Well, come in then. I'll do my best to oblige."
Footsteps approached, one pair much heavier than the other. Alden assumed the heavy footfalls were that of the exuberant Smith. They crossed into the sitting room opposite his own.
"It's been a while. How have you been?"
"I'm feeling lost, Henry." The response was low, exhausted and world-weary. Just listening to it made Alden feel like he wanted to curl up and give in to despair. He had never heard such a forlorn inflection. He looked back at Hailey, who looked just as confused.
"Who is that?" he whispered.
"I don't know," she whispered back. "I'm terrible at voices though."
Even the doctor seemed affected. The exuberance in his voice had faded, replaced with a note of concern. "Well, I'm no Catholic, but I'll hear your confession if you'll have me."
"I'm not either. I've never been very good at my faith. I just…"
"You don't need to be, my friend. No matter what, anything you say will be held in absolute confidence. I'll try to give the best advice I can, and if you want me to toss all the religion out the window, so be it."
"No, that's fine. I need to tell someone before I explode. I've done something terrible."
"Should we be listening to this?" Hailey whispered. She sounded embarrassed. "It sounds private."
"I'm not going anywhere," Alden replied. "Can't, really," he added, indicating his shoulder.
Hailey looked uncomfortable, but she stuck around as the men across the hall continued talking.
"What's on your mind?"
"I met a man out in the woods. He—well, he showed me things. Impossible things. Horrible things."
"Ahh," Smith replied knowingly. "You've discovered our more… esoteric neighbors. Had you heard about the town hall?"
"No, I've been out of town."
"Well—and believe me, I know this sounds quite insane—it seems Rallsburg is ground zero for the discovery of the arcane."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Magic, my friend. There are people amongst us who can cast spells, perform seemingly miraculous feats."
"There was a meeting?"
"Indeed there was. Well, the meeting was originally about another topic. A few students of the college were… well, they were murdered, I'm sad to say."
"What happened at the meeting?" The man didn't sound surprised at all about the murders. Alden's suspicions were growing.
"The leader of the magical community revealed herself, so I understand, followed by a communal agreement to coexist and find the killers. I was not there myself, so I couldn't give you the specifics."
"I suppose you could call it a truce. I think there were plans to integrate and collaborate more directly in the future, though."
"...with witches and monsters like these?" The man practically spat the words, so full of vitriol was his voice.
"Come now, my friend. Let us not be so hasty to judge. They have abilities beyond our comprehension, but they have not shown any malice towards the people of our town. Maybe this is a blessing, which we do not yet understand."
"Henry, you can't possibly believe that."
"I do indeed! In fact, I plan to meet with their leader and offer my support formally. I'm thinking I'll head out tonight, in fact. She's quite the compelling figure. Not at all what I expected."
There was a scraping, like someone had stood up suddenly from a chair. "They can't be trusted, man! Open your eyes! What kind of man of God are you?"
"My eyes are unclouded, Brian," Henry replied, not rising to the same volume. "I am my Lord's servant and shall serve all his people."
"You're making a mistake," said Brian, and the chill in his voice could have frozen an blazing furnace. Alden recoiled, though there were two thick walls between them. Hailey's hand clutched the gemstone around her neck so tight that her knuckles had gone pure white. Her other hand was on Alden's shoulder, as though she meant to fling him behind herself at any moment.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, but I urge you to reconsider. We could be great allies and friends, if only given the chance."
"Henry." The depression and doubt was completely gone, replaced by a sharp edge that could cut through bone. "Out of respect, I'm telling you. Do not mingle with them. Do not go near them. You will be burned. God will punish them."
"On the contrary, I look forward to seeing what their fire and spirit can produce."
Footsteps thumped into the hall. Hailey stepped in front of the bed, blocking Alden from the view of the doorway. She raised her arm and set her feet. Alden recognized a fighting stance when he saw one. She might not be inclined to fighting, but Hailey had clearly been trained to some degree in self-defense—and he was already well aware of her magical power. There was likely no one in the world more adept to defend them at that very instant, with the possible exception of Grey-eyes.
He might have felt safe, but Brian's voice had pierced them both. Hailey did not have a firm stance; she was shaking with fear. Alden was pressed up against the wall in bed, thinking desperately of anything he could do. He was still feeling weak and doubted he could make a run for it—and where would he run to? The only exit would take him straight into the voice he was so desperate to avoid. He had no real magical ability. Alden could barely summon a candle flame.
All they could do was pray the voice did not enter the room.
"Come back any time, my friend. You are always welcome in my home," Henry called as the footsteps began to recede. The back door clicked open, then shut. A few moments later, footsteps started back up the stairs.
Hailey and Alden let out simultaneous massive lungfuls of air. She sat down on the edge of the bed, her hand still clutching the gemstone tight.
"Who was that?" Alden gasped.
"I don't know," Hailey whispered. "I don't want to know. Do you think he'll come back?"
"Let's leave. As soon as we can."
"Yeah. You were treated, that should be good." Hailey picked up the harness from under the bed. "Do you think you're good to fly out of here?"
It only took them a minute to strap Alden in. They walked awkwardly to the front door, where Hailey took off as soon as she'd gathered her breath. Since it was so dark out, and Rallsburg still didn't have a single light on, they had no fear of being spotted. Several heavy, fast wingbeats and they'd been launched into the air and far away from the doctor's clinic.
Hailey took them on a direct route back to the apartment. She seemed as eager as Alden to be back on familiar ground. They didn't speak a word to each other the entire flight back. Alden wished he could have enjoyed the experience as much—particularly with the pain medication that now numbed his arm—but the memory of the voice was still echoing in his ears.
They made a neat landing back onto the balcony, where Jessica was waiting patiently. She threw the sliding door open and caught Alden as he was unstrapped, before he lost his balance and fell to the hard floor below. Rika was dozing on the couch, but spluttered awake at the sudden activity.
"Whaz goin' on?" she slurred. For a moment, Alden thought she was drunk. She slapped herself in the face with both hands, and her eyes came into sharp focus. "Thought you wouldn't be back til tomorrow at least."
"Something happened," Hailey replied, sitting down and gesturing something at Jessica. She shook her head. Hailey pointed at her and gave a thumbs up, thumbs down gesture. Jessica returned a thumbs up. Hailey looked satisfied and turned back to Rika. "We… we overheard something."
"I think we just found the murderer," Alden added quietly.
"You did what?" Rika asked, sitting up straight so fast she appeared to teleport there. They recounted everything they'd heard, word by word. "Brian, Brian… who the fuck is Brian?"
"I don't know either," Hailey answered exhaustedly. Even for someone of her talents, the flight had taken a bit out of her. Since they hadn't had any height to glide off of like the first flight, it had been a lot more effort to cut straight across town. Alden suspected she'd also put in as much as she could bear to get them home faster.
Seeing Jessica sitting next to Hailey and holding her hand tight, Alden could see why.
"If I had heard his voice, maybe…" Rika trailed off. "Goddammit."
"We should tell someone," Alden said.
"Rika, think this through."
"I did," Rika retorted. "Rachel's a bitch. She's working with the cops and trying to get me arrested for something she knows I didn't do. She's a control freak who doesn't know how to butt out of other people's business."
"We're dealing with a murderer who's already killed three people and will probably go for more. I think we just found the best suspect they've got so far, if they're still chasing you around. We need to give them something. Unless you want to call the sheriff?"
Rika shook her head. "Not in a million years."
"So we tell Rachel. She's not gonna turn you in." Alden paused. "She tried to warn you, remember?"
Rika frowned. "She still doesn't deserve shit after trying to run me out of town, again."
Alden switched tacks, deciding to speak her language instead. "Rika, this is fucking petty. You know she was trying to protect you. Rachel's still your friend." He turned to Hailey. "You agree, right?"
Hailey nodded. "I don't have her number though. I could probably get it, but…"
"But we don't have time for that," Alden snapped, turning back to Rika. "We're trapped in this town and there's someone out here killing people. So get your fucking phone out and dial. I'll even do the talking for you if you can't handle that."
"The fuck did they put you on at the doctor's office," Rika murmured. Without any further protest, she withdrew her phone, unlocked it and scrolled through the contacts. A moment later, she handed the phone over to Alden. "Do it, then."
The phone rang. Alden waited patiently, while Rika tried to look disinterested. Hailey and Jessica were quiet, Jessica trying to look engaged. Alden could see the undercurrent of frustration on her expression though. This was the first day she'd had real interaction with people other than Hailey in ages, and she still couldn't understand a word they were saying. He couldn't imagine what she was going through.
Alden was greeted with a voicemail message after only a couple rings.
"I think she blocked you," he said, disheartened. He set the phone down. He was at a loss for what to do next.
"That's it?" Rika said snidely. "Fuck, Alden, I didn't think you were that much of a pushover."
"If we're doing this, we're doing this. Get your own damn phone out."
"You want to use my phone?"
Rika sighed. "I'll use your phone, Hailey's phone, I'll route it through the NS-fucking-A if I have to. I'll reach her."