Chapter 26 - Burn

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The night shivered with foreboding, like a breath drawn before a lie is spoken.

Agate Absol scuttled past the prim facades of Four Oaks Gate with her face buried in her coat collar and her nails biting her palms. Ten streetlamps flashed overhead before she finally halted and peered back at Devon's mansion nestled behind the bend a block away. She took a breath, then continued to run.

Bagdon Manor sat at number thirty-two Four Oaks. Agate stopped in front of the eight-storey tower and scanned the scaffolding that engulfed the building like a crystalline fungus, rare patches of grimeless metal glinting in the lamplight. Plaster-white rooms within were lit but empty. Scattering cautionary glances into the shadows, Agate darted up Bagdon's driveway.

She seized the scaffolding and began to climb at once. Small hands and boots grappled each ladder rung effortlessly, hoisting her past a hundred feet of freshly mortared brick and empty window frames. In the vicinity of the eighth floor, Agate crossed the scaffold and climbed over a decapitated gargoyle to arrive on the building roof.

Here, puddles of ash still swirled underfoot as a relic of Daimos' fallen empire. Across a stark plane hulked a boxed fan and the bolted door to the inner stairwell, both blackened despite obvious attempts to scrub them clean. Beyond the roof edge, the deep night hung on pinpricks of city light. What may have been a full moon was smeared under languorous clouds. Agate wandered into the middle of the eerie islet and sank to a seat, hugging her

The wind rippled and the citadel listened. The whirring of midnight traffic on Court Street was too distant to be noticeable. Agate sat tranquilly, not budging; her eyes searched the stars, never seeming to find their target. Time passed in vain while the world refused to move. Then a shadow fell out of the sky.

Agate stopped blinking in the moment that glee possessed her. She was smiling when the shadow slunk up over the roof edge and rose before the girl. Bladelike wings rustled behind an upright silhouette.

"Medeva, finally!" Agate exclaimed, springing to her feet. "I didn't miss you last night, did I? I'd tried to get up here earlier, but Rose, she was still—"

"Don't worry," Medeva silenced the girl. "This is my first night in MorningStar. I would have come sooner, but I was delayed by an unforeseen turn of events."

Agate returned to her seat as the harpie dropped to folded legs in front of her. "That's okay." She nodded emphatically. "Will you be staying here now?"

"For now," said Medeva. "I'm not sure where circumstances will lead me from here, and I may be taken elsewhere at a moment's notice."

Agate hunched lower. "Are you in danger?"

"No." The harpie moved nothing but her lips. "But there are delicate plans afoot that require my involvement. At the moment, the Rammeren believe me to be dead, and I'd like to ensure that this illusion persists."

It took Agate a second to unfreeze from shock. "I understand."

"Now," Medeva continued with sudden sternness, "time is of the essence tonight, and we can't speak long, but I'm going to need your help."

"Yes?" Agate piped, shuffling closer.

"I need you to deliver an urgent message to Magnus Wingheart," said Medeva. "Tonight, if at all possible. Inform him that I wish to meet him at the grotto in the forest south of here, immediately; he'll know which one. He is to come alone and tell no one of this meeting until after it has taken place. Anyone I see following him I will assume to be an enemy."

Agate nodded ardently. "Alright. I know where he lives. I can go and find him right now."

"Does he live alone?"

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