Kael tossed and turned. He kept his door open during the night, and without Varlin’s decorative lamps, the living room was a dark void. Several times, he found himself staring into that void, eyes wide and fully awake. Imagined monsters moved around in the darkness, things he had long left to childhood.
They stalked on the other side of the door, even though there was nothing there. His mind worked over the problems, and it seemed that if someone was going to come for him, they would have said something by now. Maybe he was safe on that front.
He must have fallen asleep at some point because he was jarred awake by emergency lighting flooding his room and a tremble in the walls. Kael bolted out of bed, tangling in his sheets and crashing to the floor.
Pearl shrieked from Ede’s room, and before he could extricate himself from the sheets, the gryphon flew across his door. Ede slid in front of his door, slamming into the frame. Her eyes glistened in the red light, wide and full of fear. “Kael?”
“Turn on the emergency feed,” he shouted, struggling to get the sheet twisted around his ankle loose.
“Right!” Ede spun around and bounded across the living room. “View screen on!”
Kael winced as the emergency signal blared, and a voice stated in a calm, recorded voice, “Stay on this channel and remain in your rooms until further notice is given. We are experiencing an emergency situation.” The brief message repeated, and Kael panted, tossing the sheet aside and scrambling to his feet.
Pearl flew around the room, screeching, “Panic! Panic!”
“Pearl,” snapped Ede. “Shut up! You’re only making it worse.”
“Volume down,” ordered Kael, joining her to stare at the screen. There was no further information, only the recording and the annoying whine of the siren. Another tremor passed through the room, which was concerning. The Spire was sturdy and never shook, not even in the worst of weather. Whatever caused the shaking had to be tremendous.
Kael moaned, rubbing his ears. They were able to turn down the announcement volume, but not the siren. It went on for what seemed like forever. His heart raced, and he panted, unable to control his breathing. Ede did the same, fixated on the screen.
The screen blipped, and a new face appeared, one of their bosses grimacing as he read from a slate. “Crews A, E, G, and I, report to the Delta sector.”
Kael gaped at the screen. What had happened? Were they going to tell them? That many crews to one place meant something more serious than what had happened just days earlier. Again?
Ede whined, her ears flat and the fur on her neck and shoulders sticking out in all directions. This was bad. But this time, they were in their quarters, and he was with Ede. She had an alibi. They could not blame her for this accident.
The message repeated, stating that all other crews remain in their quarters and those in the selected crew report to work. The siren went off, but the emergency lights stayed on. It was a small relief, but now Kael’s mind went to the possible problem. Why would someone want to attack the same particular area? Why were they doing this at all?
“I hope nobody was hurt,” whispered Ede. “I can’t believe this is happening. Why is this happening?” She gave voice to his question, a shudder passing through her body. Pearl landed on her shoulder, chirping and fluttering her wings.
“Someone really doesn’t want you here,” said Kael grimly. “I don’t get it though, there have been other Fox who worked in the spires. I thought all this would have been done and over with by now with how many Fox allies we have.”
“Old habits die hard.” Ede shrugged, wrapping a hand around Pearl and moving her into her arms. The gryphon shivered, pupils dilated to the point that her eyes were almost solid black.
Kael shook his head and sighed. “Hungry? I think there might be a few things in the cooler.”
“Keep this in mind, Ede,” said Kael with a grin over his shoulder. “I was with you the entire time. Nobody can blame you for whatever happened, and maybe they’ll find someone new to suspect. That was the entire point of me being with you, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah.” A tiny smile crept up Ede’s muzzle, and she nodded. “That’s right, but I still hope nobody was hurt.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough.”
Kael frowned at the viewscreen. Argent sat on the other side, his hands clasped on the desk in front of him. They were speaking privately in the living room. Ede had gone into her room with the understanding Argent would talk to her next.
They were stuck inside for hours. The lights had come back on, and kitchen staff delivered breakfast and lunch to their door. Everyone was under a lockdown order unless they were working in Delta Sector.
Cammy had been called in to do their job.
The exact details of the accident hadn’t been mentioned on the view screen, only updates about the lockdown and crew shifts. Kael and Ede were left out of the entire process. Nobody had shown up to escort them out of the Spire, and Argent communicated via a view screen instead of requesting them to come to a private office.
“Now, look,” said Argent, leaning toward the camera, his voice low and even. “This could go either way, Kael. Ede could be innocent or guilty. The problem is, we are running out of other suspects. Someone is killing them, and honestly, that shrinks the suspect pool, doesn’t it?”
Kael frowned and nodded. This wasn’t looking good at all.
“So, remaining in your quarters is as much of a move to protect Edeline as it is to keep track of her.” Argent tapped his clawed fingertips together. “We have video this time. I had new cameras put in with special shielding to prevent energy tampering. They were on a different system, and they recorded a fox. I’m having investigators check the area when it’s safe.”
“Ede was here all night,” said Kael, shifting in his chair. “I slept with my door open, and she came out of her room when the alarm went off.”
“You were asleep,” pointed out Argent. “You can not watch someone while you are asleep, and there was time for her to have done what was done and get back before it happened.”
“It’s not important.”
“Because it’s part of the investigation?”
“Exactly. When we have finished going over the site, we’ll be in touch.” Argent looked aside and nodded to someone off-screen. “I need to talk to Edeline now.”
Kael ended up in his room again, glaring at the ceiling. There was no way to find out what was going on outside unless he left their rooms, and if he left, he would be abandoning Ede.
A short time later, Ede knocked on his door. “Meeting’s over.”
Kael was up and at the door in seconds. “Open.” Ede stood on the other side, Pearl sitting on her shoulder, cooing. Her ears were upright, eyes dull and watery. “What did he say?”
“That they’re doing their best to get to the bottom of this and that if I’m innocent, I have nothing to worry about,” replied Ede, not sounding convinced. “Kael, I did not do it, and you know I didn’t. But someone out there is making it look like it’s me, and I don’t know how much I can trust people who hate me for being a Fox.”
“I don’t hate you.” Kael let his arms drop loosely to his side, gazing at Ede. Hate was the last word he would use.
“Thanks.” Ede turned, shifting her attention to Pearl. “I’m going to pack. It sounds like I’m going to be leaving no matter what happens.”
“I’m sorry.” Kael hung his head, his ears flopping back. “Would you like some help?”
Ede smirked, giving him the side-eye. “That was me giving you an excuse not to be around me.”
She raised an eyebrow, turning to face him, her tail swishing slowly at her heels. “Because you’re kitsitting me, and I don’t want to be a burden.”
“You are not a burden.” Kael frowned, clasping his hands behind his back.
“You just admitted you’re kitsitting,” said Ede with an amused huff. “I’m an adult.”
“Okay, fair trade. You pack, and we talk about where you’re going?” Kael walked past her, turning to walk to her room. “You know if I could, I would take you on as an apprentice, but there’s that five-year requirement.”
“Yeah.” Ede walked after him. “And someone may be out to kill me. I don’t understand what I did that would make someone so angry with me.”
“Some people are just jerks,” said Kael with a shrug as Ede opened the door. “I will always look out for you.”
“That’s sweet.” Ede sighed, looking around her room. Like his, it didn’t have a lot in it. There were no photos or decorations. Everything was plain—flat colors, from the blanket on her bed to the clothes hanging in the open closet.
“Where would you go if you had to leave?” Kael sat on her bed as Ede crossed the room and stood in front of her closet.
“I don’t know. You?”
“Not home. I think I’d travel for a while.”
“South, along the coast. I haven’t seen the ocean.”
“Sand and water,” said Ede with a shiver. She idly pushed her clothing aside, Pearl perched on her shoulder, chirping. “I saw the coast when we got Pearl.”
“Oh?” Kael stared at the gryphon. Pearl was one of the kind that you only saw from a pet dealer. They were not a local species.
“We went on vacation to the Soquia islands, and my father surprised me with her. She was a birthday gift.” Ede tilted her head toward Pearl. “Absolutely hideous pile of skin and feathers. Not cute at all.”
Pearl huffed and puffed up, fluttering her wings as though she understood she was being insulted. Ede reached up and dragged her fingers through Pearl’s feathers. “She was very tiny, and it was fun raising her.”
“I never had a pet growing up,” said Kael, filing the information away. Over the months he had known Ede, she had been tight-lipped about anything involving her past. “I wanted one, but my mom and dad thought it would be too much of a burden. They tended to be…absent-minded.”
Ede pushed her clothes aside and sighed, turning to face him with a small smile on her muzzle. “It’s sad that it’d take me ten minutes to pack my things.”
“Nah, it’s not. Imagine if something happened and you lost everything. Would you feel worse about losing a few things or many?”
“It’s best not to get attached to things.”
“Is it?” Ede sat next to him, a small space between them.
“When you have parents like mine, yes.” Kael shifted, clasping his hands. “When I say they’re absent-minded, I don’t mean just forgetting things here and there. I have six older siblings.”
“Six? I have a brother and a sister.” Ede glanced at him. “Both younger. My parents had plans for me.”
“Lucky you,” said Kael with a laugh. “I was the youngest, and they didn’t know what to do with me. They forgot me so many times. It’s a wonder nothing happened to me.”
“My parents never let me out of their sight.” Ede stared across the room, her eyes focusing on nothing.
“When I was three, my family went berry picking in the nearby forest.” Kael closed his eyes, dredging up the memory. “My mother put my two five-year-old sisters and me down for a nap. It was late afternoon, and we were tired. When we woke, it was night, and we were alone.”
Ede turned her head to him, eyes wide and mouth open.
“They forgot us, and we were too young to know what to do, and my sisters took me by the hand, and we went looking for our family.” Kael ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it between his drooping ears. “There was a wild scythetail. I don’t remember much. It jumped on one of my sisters, and the other grabbed me, and we climbed a tree. I wasn’t old enough to understand what happened.”
“That’s so sad,” said Ede, her full attention on him.
“They never took us into the forest again,” Kael gripped his hands together, staring at them. “Mom and Dad weren’t bad parents. They were stretched too far with all their children and jobs. By the time I came around, they didn’t have time for me.”
Ede nodded. “So, you left home and came out here? Why?”
“To see the world,” replied Kael with a shrug. “And I will. Someday. I’ve been saving, and I have plans.”
“I haven’t been here long enough to save anything, but I can’t go home.” Ede’s ears twitched back as she laid her hands on her knees. “I’ll never go home.”