Davey stood on the front stoop of Carly’s house, staring at the empty street. Her bags hung limply from slightly curled fingers. The purchases seemed to weigh down her soul as much as they did her hands. What had started as a day of exploration and laughter had turned to pain and weight. She had no idea what she was supposed to do. She just wanted to go sit in the bakery and stuff her face with delicious pastries until she was so full she was no longer able to think. But with Carly sitting just behind those thin walls, Davey didn’t dare leave.
The longer she stood there, on that flat slab of cement that passed for an entryway, the more she realized how quiet the neighborhood was. No one walked the streets. The few people on their lawns weren’t laughing and jovial with their neighbours. Instead, they stood, watering their dull lawns or sweeping their vacant cement patches. No one so much as glanced into the yards around them. No one tried to engage anyone. The girl standing stone-still in front of a house that wasn’t hers attracted no attention at all.
Davey wandered around the side of the house. She couldn’t walk away from the building. She would wait here for Carly. Wait until she could come up with some kind of plan of action.
A water tank ran along the back of the building, ending where it met the stairs leading down from the back door. The yard was surrounded by a tall fence that blocked it from the large empty field behind the row of houses. Davey sank down into the small space between the tank and the steps and set her purse on the ground. It took her a few minutes to find the white case. She held it in her hands for a moment, staring at it, wondering if she could figure out how to get it to do what she wanted. She’d never called for help before. She’d never needed to. Never felt so close to failure. Davey knew there was a way to contact other Veils using the totem. They taught it in training sessions, but that had been over forty years ago and she barely remembered the instructions.
She cupped her hands together and rested the talisman in the bowl they formed. She stared at the veins in snowflake, her eyes exploring the lines from one end to the other. The dull light of the sun reflected off the multiple points, highlighting the grooves. Drawing her further and further into its heart. As she felt herself beginning to pull towards the power of the Commune, she began to think of M. To concentrate on the traits that made her different from other Veils. To picture the glass tree that was M’s totem. She hoped that she was between assignments. That she might hit that little window between jobs. At the very least, that she was working a job where she could pop out for a few minutes. The pull became stronger and Davey felt the mist building and overflowing from her hands. Spilling out in soft tendrils, chilling her skin as it formed its familiar coating. She closed her eyes and waited for the Commune to finish the transport.
When D felt her muscles shift back into her familiar body, she rolled her shoulders to allow the tension to release. Opening her eyes, she saw the white room similar to the normal arrival rooms, but instead of the ring of chairs and the orb, this room contained two chairs facing each other. D released a sigh of relief when she found herself looking into M’s pale, inquisitive eyes.
“What’s going on?” M stared at her friend, he head tilted in curiosity. Being called in by a fellow Veil, especially an experienced one, was extremely rare.
D glanced around the room, her eyes adjusting to the sterility of the Commune. Something seemed off. She stared at M, who almost seemed to be floating. It took her a minute to realize that there were no shadows mingling with the white light from the ceiling. Everything here was simply white. Shadow and light worked differently here. She’d always known that, but it had never affected her before. A few days as Davey and she no longer felt like she belonged in the community of Travelers.
“D, what’s wrong?” M leaned forward, touching her hands against D’s knees.
“I’m failing, M.” D ran her hands along her smooth scalp. Her fingers longed for the feel of the hair she’d grown to think of as her own. She wondered if this was why they never interfered in the same life twice. Never took on the same persona more than once. She was beginning to think of herself as Damhnait, not as D. She was failing at more than her directive. She was failing as a Veil.
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t figure out how to change this future. I can’t seem to get through to her.” She attacked the simplest of her problems.
“What’s the scenario? The one you were confused about? You’re back in that engagement again?”
“I’m back in Faulery Valley, yeah. Same persona. Different period on the timeline. I’m supposed to make sure Carly doesn’t kill herself. It’s easy to interfere with accidents. I just have to be there. But how do you stop someone who’s determined to end their own life? How do you keep someone who’s completely miserable from taking that step?”
“Can you do something to make her happy? This isn’t usually my area, but just make her not depressed?” M continued to watch her inquisitively.
“I’ve tried. Every time I think I’m making headway, something happens and things get worse. And there’s this, I don’t know… there’s something on the planet that’s taking over the lives of the people.” D tapped her fingers against her legs. “But the Masters have forbidden me to get involved. But it’s that group that’s driving my charge to kill herself.”
“The Masters forbid you? When? Was it in your write up?”
“They pulled me back in the middle of my assignment and spoke to me.”
“You were recalled?” M’s eyes widened. If she’d had eyebrows, D imagined that they would be halfway up her forehead. “But, they never recall. I’ve only ever heard of two in the past. Did you see the Masters? Speak to them directly? What are they like?”
“Don’t get sidetracked, M. I need to know how to fix my engagement.”
“But D, you know what it means if you get called before the Masters, don’t you?”
“That I’m in heaps of trouble and failing my assignment?” D pinched the bridge of her nose.
“No! How do you of all people not know this? If you’re called before the Masters, it’s because you’re tapped to become a Master. You’re fast tracked. This is huge deal.”
“I don’t want to be a Master right now.” D rubbed her eyes in exasperation. “Right now, all I want to do is save Carly’s life.”
“You have to complete this engagement, D. It’s obvious that they’ve given you a huge challenge to make sure you’re ready to move up in the ranks.” M stood and pulled D into a hug, overshadowing the issue at hand, “They’re making the right choice. You’re the best Veil I’ve ever met. You’ve never once failed at an assignment.”
“I know. That’s why I’m so frustrated.”
“Maybe you could take her out of the town for a little while. A vacation might be just what she needs to forget her worries. If these people aren’t around to interfere, maybe she’ll get the space she needs to really feel better.”
“That’s a great idea. Thanks, M. That’s just what I needed.”
“Now hurry up and finish this so that you can get back here and become a Master.” M grinned and got up to leave the room. “I’m on break until tomorrow; try to get back here before I leave.”
“Should be done in a day or two.” Davey smiled a wan smile and watched the other girl leave. Becoming a Master was something she’d never seriously considered. She really didn’t think about them much at all. Sure, everyone was curious about the Masters, but nothing like M. Right now, she just wanted to go home. Davey cupped the totem and began to reverse the process she’d completed to get here. She felt the familiar tugging sensation and soon opened her eyes to see the empty, depressing yard behind Carly’s house.
A light dusting of snow had started to fall. The flakes looked like ash slowly falling from the sky and settling against the earth. Like a natural disaster coming to an end. It made the middle of the day feel more like early evening. Davey pushed herself from the ground beside the water tank and let herself in through the back door. She hurried down the hall and knocked on the door to Carly’s room. The sweater she’d left in the hall was gone.
“Yes?” Carly’s voice sounded softly through the door.
“I just want to make sure you’re really okay before I leave.”
“I’m fine. Thank you for the sweater, Davey.”
“You’re welcome. Call me at the hotel when you’re ready for company.” Davey turned and let herself out of the house. She made her way towards the Parks. The grey snow came to rest gently on her knit sweater. The warm boots hugged her feet against the sudden chill in the air. She silently thanked Joy for the dress code change. Her bags of clothing hung from her fingers, swinging gently.
When she passed into the Parks zone, the falling snow changed. Instead of turning the area into a barren fallout zone, it suddenly felt like she was inside a snow globe. The flakes were a bright, crisp white. She could almost see the different facets cut into each individual flake as they swirled playfully around her. The light reflected off the snow, making everything brighter and more vibrant. She couldn’t help but think of her talisman. Her fingers wrapped reassuringly around the box in her purse.
Davey began to consider the ways she could try to get Carly out of town. With school tomorrow, there was no time to leave now and she didn’t know if Carly would last another week. She didn’t even know where they could go. She made a mental note to ask Ajay if there was anywhere nearby that wasn’t Fenton occupied.
Davey felt her stomach twist and release a hungry growl as she rounded the corner and walked into a wave of scent from the bakery. It had been hours since breakfast. She felt like she could eat everything on the room service menu right now. Davey hurried towards what had quickly become her favourite smell. Just as she reached the bakery, she heard a squeal followed by a loud shout from down the street. She turned quickly to see the friendly caramel apple seller shaking his fist at a group of boys making a hasty retreat. Smiling, she turned back to the bakery and placed her hand on the door.
She was about to push it open when she saw Sinder at the back of the store, hands waving emphatically as she argued with a navy clad soldier. The guard reached forward and placed a hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Davey’s breath caught as she saw the tan skin. Sinder took a deep breath, hung her head and nodded as her face settled into a look of grim resignation. As she turned back towards the counter, the guard turned with her, his hood pushed back off his head. His dark blonde beard and sparkling eyes were exactly what Davey expected to see, but it still made her cringe.
“What the hell are you doing here, Ajay?” She muttered, not sure if she should go in or if she should turn and walk away, pretending she’d never been there. Ajay looked up and caught her standing at the door and the decision was made for her. He and Sinder froze when they saw her standing there. Both looked like they’d been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.
Davey pushed the door open and stepped inside, so distracted by the scene she’d just witnessed that for a moment she forgot about her crushing hunger. Sinder moved behind the counter and pulled a cookie from the display case. None of them said anything. Ajay and Davey simply stared at each other while Sinder walked around the counter and placed the cookie into Davey’s hand. She stepped around the red-head and walked to the door, where she flipped the open sign and slid the lock into place.
Davey looked back and forth between them. Unsure what she’d just walked in on, but knowing that something huge was about to happen.
“We need to talk…”Sinder crossed her arms awkwardly over her chest, “D.”