Chapter 50: Jump

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With tears streaming down my face and throat raw from screaming, I finally reached the roof, where the magician was repeatedly slamming Jack down.

"You ruined everything!" he yelled, shadows pouring from his mouth.

Lifting Jack was becoming more difficult because as shadow streamed off his armor and out his nose and mouth, he shrank.

"Monster!" I whispered fiercely, breaking into a run.

I tackled Jack, ripping him from the magician's grasp as the magician turned back into a man.

"I'll get you for this." He was trembling in rage. "I'll get you both for this."

But as he took a step towards us, a large shadow fell over him. We both looked up to see a giant bird- the black and white one I'd poured a potion onto.

The magician began chanting, gathering shadows close to him, and vanished, just as the bird landed where he had been. I was sure he'd opened his mouth to shout one last threat, but disappeared before he could.

I didn't care. I didn't have any idea what he was about to say, and I didn't want to. All I cared about was that the body beneath me was cold and stiff: unmoving, unfeeling. Un-Jack.

I looked down at his curled fingers and frozen eyes, glazed, almost relaxed. I would never again see them light up in mischief or widen in terror or smugness. He was gone.

I couldn't hold back my tears. I had been too late. The magician was right: I'd used up all his time. I should have given him the Semper forever ago, right after I'd found out he was turning to metal.

Then he would still be here.

But would he be happy? Everyone else around him would age, while he'd be stuck as a teenager. Forever. That couldn't have been a good life. Better than this.

I came to my senses at a yank on my back. I turned, bleary eyed. It was those little birds, tugging on Jack's duffel. I'd forgotten I even had it.

"He's gone," I whispered, but their pulling became even more insistent.

Slowly, I let it slide from my arms. The birds unzipped it.

My hands trembled and tears blurred my vision, but I reached my hand in and pulled out... a bean. One of the ones that I had thrown to form the stalk. I placed it on his chest. That was where it all began: the point of no return. I wished I had believed him when he told me they were magical. I saw again his eyes wide and eager, the way they had always become when he thought of magic.

Next I pulled out a small, delicate pink flower and placed it next to the bean. It looked familiar. . . Archibald's palace! I was sure that's where I'd seen it. He must have gone back for it.

One by one I pulled out Jack's collection of memories: a beautiful blanket vivid as the Land of a Thousand Skies; simple objects made of wood, cheap fabric, and lesser metals- mementos from the Farmlands; the broken black sphere he had used to crack the Sky so we could escape; the honeysuckle he'd sucked water out of; the doll I had added; and a bottle that could only be Archibald's, labeled "Breath of Spring."

Finally, when I reached my hand in, my fingers brushed against something soft: Jack's feather. The embodiment of the Eastern Mountains. At least, in Jack's eyes. I set it beside the others, then sat back on my heels.

How was he gone?

I turned away, but the birds started chirping. I glanced back, to the sight of the little birds trying to lift the Breath of Spring. They got it off the ground and flew over Jack with it. Then they tipped it, letting a few drops plop onto him.

I sat, mouth half-open, ready to tell them to stop, but they only flew it back and set it down.

"What did you do that for?" I asked.

In response, they all turned to look at Jack. At first, I couldn't understand why. Then my heart stopped. His hand twitched. And had the metal over his face lightened?

Slowly, as I held my breath, watching, hardly daring to hope, he began to transform. His skin turned supple, clothes softened into fabric, and eyes grew alive. His chest rose and fell. His mouth, before set in determination, now grinned. "Miss me?"

I slugged him in the arm. He sat up, laughing, and I hugged him.

We sat back, and Jack noticed all of his things spread across the roof, eyes stopping on the bottle from Archibald's palace.

"You. . . didn't pour any of that on me, did you?"

I laughed uncomfortably. "The birds did."

"The. . ." He glanced over at them. Then down at himself. "Well I feel fine."

"What do you mean?"

He shook his head. "That stuff was supposed to be too efficient or something. Archibald said it would kill me."

I thought about it. "Steel is the purest form of industrial magic right? At least, that's what Colton says. So what if Breath of Spring is the same thing for natural magic? Maybe because there's also stuff from the Eastern Mountains and Juxtaposition that I put on you, it wasn't pure natural magic. Just close enough to change you back."

Jack stared at me, grin forming. "And to think, a couple days ago you didn't even believe in magic."

I rolled my eyes, smiling in spite of myself.

We both noticed the background muttering at the same time. I raised an eyebrow and he shrugged. Together we walked to the edge of the roof.

An exultant cheer swelled. Among the crowd that had apparently gathered in front of the building, I spotted orphans I recognized from my stay here, and some I didn't, and a handful of kids who, judging by their clothes (among other things), were obviously from the Farmlands. Peb was there too, and a few of the nurses. The one face I sought I could not find. For a flash of a second, I thought I saw her red brown streaks, but just as soon as I'd blinked, they were gone.

A police car skidded to a stop at the curb and police officers marched out, slamming the doors behind them. "What's the situation? We got reports of buildings smashing and injuries and giant. . . things."

Madame P. pushed her way to the front of the crowd, and the officer recoiled. And who could blame him? Her hair was wild, outfit in disarray, and face covered in dozens of small red welts.

"There is no need for your assistance," she said crisply. "I have already taken care of the situation." The rest of her words, however, were drowned out by collective boos and shouted arguments.

Jack and I looked at each other and laughed. Just the world returning to its natural order.

One boy caught Jack's eye and motioned him down. Jack turned to me, excitement enlivening his eyes. "Jump with me," he said.

I backed up a step. "How do you know you still can?"

"Just trust me." And with that, he took my hand and we jumped off the roof.

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

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