The Unwanteds Island of Fire
It was as if Artimé had never existed.
In the weeks since the death of Marcus Today, Alexander Stowe was often seen sitting on a rickety stool, staring out the window of the gray shack, clouding the glass with his breath. Sometimes he leaned his head of dark tangled curls or pressed a dirty cheek against the pane to catch a few moments of sleep when he could stay awake no longer.
Today was no different. He stared even now, but he wasn’t seeing anything at all.
In his hand he gripped a piece of paper with a colorful
border, which was beginning to smudge, and he never let it go even though he’d memorized the words on it. It was his last message from Mr. Today, a cryptic, poetic spell that would fix all Alex’s problems if only he could decipher the clues. He went over the words for the millionth time in his mind.
Follow the dots as the traveling sun,
Magnify, focus, every one.
Stand enrobed where you first saw me,
Utter in order; repeat times three.
The only thing Alex truly understood about the clue was the “enrobed” part. Mr. Today had been famous for his colorful robes, and Alex imagined there was some hint of magic to the robes themselves—there must be if Alex had to wear one to make the world of Artimé come back. Alex had the good fortune of possessing the only robe in existence at this moment—the one Mr. Today had been wearing when Alex’s Wanted twin brother, Aaron, killed him. The robe was Alex’s only symbol of hope in a time that could not possibly be any darker.
“You should eat something,” said a voice at Alex’s shoulder.
It was Henry Haluki, Lani’s younger brother, and next to him stood the Silent boy, a ring of thorns threaded through the skin around his neck. When Alex turned and focused his bleary eyes on the boys, Henry held out a good-sized half shell he’d been using as a small bowl.
Alex smiled and took it. “Thanks,” he said, breathing in the faint smell of a weak seafood broth. His empty stomach snarled, begging for it, but Alex hesitated. The Unwanteds were beginning to starve. He handed it back to Henry and shook his head. “Give it to Meg,” he said. “No, wait . . . to Carina Fathom and her baby. They need it most.” Alex swallowed hard and turned away so he wouldn’t be tempted to grab it back again. It would be a sign of acceptance to Carina, who was so mortified that her mother, Eva, had turned against Artimé that she couldn’t bear to look Alex in the eye.
Henry frowned, but he shuffled away obediently and left the shack carrying the soup. The Silent boy followed him, both of them careful not to disturb any sleeping bodies on the floor. After a minute Alex stood up, stretched his tired limbs, and left too. He walked around to the front of the shack, maneuvering over the still body of Jim, the winged tortoise, whose mosaic
back sparkled in the sunshine, until he reached Florence, frozen in full stride. Nimbly he climbed, using Florence’s legs and arms as a ladder, and he swung his body up to the roof as if he’d done it dozens of times.
He lifted a hand to shield his eyes and looked west, in the direction of the two islands that dotted the ocean. “Follow the dots as the traveling sun,” he muttered. “The dots have got to mean the islands, but . . . ” He didn’t finish the sentence because there were so many unknowns. The phrase didn’t even make sense. And then the next line—“magnify, focus, every one.” How could Alex magnify and focus on the islands? He was stuck on this island. He couldn’t get any closer. He had no binoculars. Sometimes, when conditions were less favorable, he couldn’t even see the more distant one. And “every one”? There were only two visible, though Simber had told him once that there were actually three in that direction. Mr. Today certainly would’ve said “both” if he meant only the two he could see, but the clue said “every one.” Could Mr. Today have meant to include the island of Quill, too? And what about the rest of the chain that they couldn’t see, to the east? There were seven islands in all, with Quill in the center, Simber had said. . . .
Oh, Simber. A wave of grief flooded Alex. He closed his eyes for a moment. Nightmares had plagued him since Simber had plunged into the sea, deadweight. All the rest of the creatures Mr. Today had created in Artimé had ceased to be alive then too, from the moment of the mage’s death. The mansion and every wonderful thing in it was gone. Worse, two of Alex’s best friends remained missing on Warbler Island, where the Silents had come from, and Alex had no means by which to search for them.
Alex shook his head. “I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.
Just then he heard a shout from the gate that led to Quill. He stood up on the roof to see what was happening. The shout had come from Henry, who lay sprawled on the dusty ground. Two other Unwanteds ran off through the gate and disappeared into Quill, with the Silent boy giving chase. Henry didn’t move.