I've been shuffled in doors to wait for them. The cold florescent light buzzes menacingly. Like winter sun, it teases me into thinking I can feed from its energy, but it's not bright enough. I sink my aching swimmer's legs into a stained chair to wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Guilt gnaws at my brain. What have I done to my parents? They're being questioned about the hole on their property where Bud was born. Some kind of fancy detector spotted traces of Toadflax DNA in the moss and the total body count from our yard was one less than the number of birth sites.

The thought of them having to answer to my crime breeds agony. How could I have been so selfish? No thinking, just doing whatever I want no matter the consequences. No wonder Del chose me second after Lemon. What would my parents think of me if they knew I was the one who saved Bud from the Columbine guards? How could I have been so reckless?

Was it because they taught me to help the less fortunate? When I was little, Dad led us on a class trip to the shelter down valley. We brought our mountain stream water to share with those living in that cramped and barren place: a desert environment where plants without the toughest skin wither. I remember Dad saying, "Fuch, don't ever forget we are all equals in God's eyes. A life is a life is a life."

A girl our same age as my classmates was staring at us. She had gangly legs and wild yellow hair that had probably never been brushed. When Dad gave her the water, she gulped greedily, like she would never be full, like Bud did this morning when Cord and I fed him.

"Miss Brook?" A woman has opened the door between me and my parents.

"Uh, yes," I jump from my chair.

"Your parents are meeting with counsel and it's taking longer than expected. They asked that you go to Magenta's. You can summon a Messenger to take you there."

"But, can't I go home?"

"Your home is now a crime scene. Trust me, after today, it will take a while for that place to look like home again, sweetie." She means to help but it only makes me feel worse.

I press my thumb and summon a Messenger, and as soon as I do this, that little black and honey man saunters into the room. "Burnish."

"Ma Lady" He looks at the watching eyes of the receptionist, then whispers, "Fuchsia."

"How did you get here so fast?"

"I've been waiting for you."

"What the hell?" He's starting to creep me out, what with the night stalking by the river and all. And he knows that I gave water to a Cloak. But he doesn't know my deepest secret, that I'm aiding and abetting a baby enemy of the state.

"Let's take a coffee break, shall we?" he escorts me outside where his bike is propped in the stand under the towering evergreens.

"Take me to Magenta's now," I command like a typical Grove High diva. I've got no patience left, and I need to be where Cord's message can reach me. Magenta lives a few blocks from my ransacked yard, along the same stream where trout dine.

"Yes, Ma Lady." I don't remind him that we're on a first name basis. We pass the library and the fire station, but instead of climbing the road to Magenta's house, he continues down Main Street into the setting sun.

"What the? Where are we going?" I ask.

"You'll see," he yells into the wind. We are leaving town and descending into the dry valley below, in the same direction as the shelter where Dad took me years ago.

I could jump off and really take a beating, but he seems to know this and speeds down the hill. There are no Aspen here, only giant red rocks that curve with the road. We follow the river between them and then turn left at the junction. Soon the landscape changes from lush to barren. We turn onto the dusty path I remember; the shelter is up ahead.

"You can't just kidnap me, you know!" I scream. "I'll report you!"

"I'm trusting that you won't. I want you to meet someone." He parks and holds out his hand like this is normal behavior from a Messenger.

I should never have crossed the line that divides our classes. I shrug him off and walk with crossed arms. "After this, take me to Magenta's." I have to be where I can get that message from Cord.

He signs us in at the pitiful office window and we wait in front of the chain link fence. More waiting, super.

But it only takes a minute for us to be ushered in behind the fence, and a man who looks a lot like Burnish, same dark skin and fit little body topped with graying hair, embraces him. "Papa, I brought someone here to meet you," he says. "This is Fuchsia, the daughter of Mr. Brook who can help you become a citizen of the Grove."

A/N: Fuchsia is certainly going outside her comfort zone, but can she trust Burnish?

This chapter is dedicated to @Sarel303 whose story, A Touch Of Magic, invites us into the frosty snow globe of an English village at Christmas where the mysterious blends with reality. Don't miss this wonderfully crafted tale:

https://www.wattpad.com/story/63678127-a-touch-of-magic


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