Chapter 40: Parting

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-Jack

Whatever I had been expecting to see upon our return to the Edge, it had not been this. I may have imagined a few pitchforks, and possibly even some torches, though always held by Edgians, always directed at us. Instead, the Edgians slunk in the shadows, too preoccupied to remember the beanstalk that might have accidentally crushed a few of their homes, but now seemed to have vanished. A breathtakingly high wall had been erected around the City. It curved in, like the sides of a chocolate-dark, super reflective gray bowl. Steel. More and more steel.

And all of this led to those holding the pitchforks. My friends and neighbors, my school-teacher and the town woodworker and everyone I'd grown up with. What was happening? Why had they fled their homes? And why did they seem so angry?

"Miss Talran!" I called.

Skai face-palmed.

I turned to her. "What?"

She shook her head tiredly. "Please next time let's not yell at the angry mob."

"They're not a mob. They're Farmers."

Miss Talran had turned, as well as a few others toward the back. They all gaped. "Jack! You're floating!" she said breathlessly.

"Yeah. I know. Listen, what's going on here? What are you guys doing? Where'd this wall come from?"

Colton and Skai started whispering frantically beside me, and I felt my blood boil. My neighbors weren't a threat. "Where's Knox?" I asked when everyone merely continued to gape.

My question did end the gaping, though the full effect wasn't quite what I'd had in mind. Miss Talran burst into tears.

"They took him," she whispered.

"What?! Who?"

"The City-dwellers," a large man spat beside her. Taj.

Skai, Colton, and I exchanged a horrified glance.

Then Skai stepped forward. "They wouldn't do that."

He spat again. "They did more'n take him. They took all our kids."

Skai shook her head emphatically. "No. My people wouldn't-"

"Your people?!"

I quickly flew in front of her. "She's not like the rest of them, Taj."

Skai sidestepped out from behind me. "How would you know? You only met the worst of us! We're not all like Madame P. and Fyrn. There are some good people living there!"

"Oh yes, saints," Taj snarled. "Look," he said to those around him. "I'm tired of waiting for them to come out! I say let's go knocking!"

The mass of angry Farmers cheered, raising goosebumps along my skin and chilling my blood. I had in my mind every certainty that their cry rose straight to the Land of a Thousand Skies. How had everything deteriorated so quickly?

Colton pulled us both back as the Farmers surged forward, ramming into the wall with a thousand pitchforks. CLANG!

"Okay," Colton said, eyes wild. "We made it to Juxtaposition. Let's go home now."

CLANG!

Skai growled in frustration. "That is my home. Any minute now a mob of angry Farmers is going to break in and destroy it!"

"How?" I asked incredulously. "That thing looks impenetrable."

"We've barely been gone for two days! There are bound to be weaknesses. In fact, it's pretty much impossible for there not to be."

"E- excuse me."

I turned. Behind us, a young mother stood with her diapered toddler in her arms, eyes flitting every which way.

"Yes?" I asked gently.

"You two were here before," she said. "You know magic?"

I couldn't squash the hopeful look in her eye. "A little."

Skai shot me a glare. What? Like she could've mustered any other answer!

The mother brightened. "Then you can stop this?"

I put a finger under her son's chin. His white-blond hair contrasted sharply against her dark brown. Then I met her wide, dark eyes. "We'll do our best."

"Oh, good! Thank you! Here. You might need these." She held out her hand, and I thought my eyes had died. In her palm lay what looked like magic beans!

"The beanstalk shrank back down to its beans after a few hours," she explained upon seeing my expression.

I accepted the beans. "Thank you."

She nodded and crept back to the shadows.

"Jack, don't forget why we came," Skai said.

"And remind me. Why is that?"

"So that we could stop vicissm from spreading. To save my people!"

"Well, now I want to save my people."

She gestured angrily at the Farmers still hard at work on the wall. "They're not the ones who need saving."

"Their kids were taken from them! Of course they're angry!"

Silence fell, except for the constant clangs of metal on metal- steel against steel.

"Guess that's it, then," Skai said. "We need to split up."

I swallowed. "I guess so."

"If you fly me to the hospital first, you and Colton can find the kids and get them out of there."

I nodded numbly. Something in my gut told me this was it. The last time I'd see Skai. Maybe even my last moments being able to see at all. I could already feel the beginnings of stiffness in my fingers, and the steel had crept an alarming distance up my chest. The end was coming. Only one question remained: how would I go out?

"Let's do this," I said, turning around for the others to climb onto my back.

"Wait."

I turned back around in time to see Skai bite her lip. "Please come with me," she whispered. "The doctors might be able to help you."

I shook my head. "I have to help my people."

I started to turn back around.

"Jack." This time she threw herself into my arms and did something so out of place and so out of character, but also so pleasant and exhilarating, that I was sure some Eastern Mountain magic must have lingered in us. She kissed me.

When we pulled apart, Colton was looking away. "Ewww. You're disgusting."

"Go save your people," I told her anyway.

She nodded. "You too."


A/N: Thanks for reading! Comment below: what did you like? Dislike? I'd love to hear from you!


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