The Gray Shack
When the world of Artimé turned gray, Henry Haluki knew that Alex was dead.
The medicinal herbs he’d been picking turned to weeds in his hands, and the ground beneath his knees became hard and cracked. The enormous mansion swirled and disappeared, leaving a small shack in its place. Hundreds of Artiméans who’d been inside the mansion spilled out of the shack’s doorway and burst through its windows, trying to keep from being crushed. The walls strained and bulged as if they were about to explode.
Henry stared for an instant, trying to comprehend what
was happening, and then he dropped the weeds and ran toward the chaos to help. As he went, he realized that his hospital ward and everything in it would have disappeared along with the mansion. He reached into his healer’s coat pockets to see what medicines he carried with him, but those magical products had vanished too. His heart sank.
Cries and shouts rose from all over the property. It was impossible to know where to start helping. Henry looked around frantically as it dawned on him that his and Thatcher’s adopted young Unwanteds were probably somewhere in the disaster. His breath caught as he thought about how scared everyone must be. With Alex gone, he had to step up.
With Alex gone. Not just away. Gone. For good.
A sharp pain speared through Henry. He slowed and stumbled forward, crumpling into the agony of the realization. A horrendous sob exploded from him, the sound of it lost in the chaotic din. Alexander Stowe, head mage of Artimé, is dead. Henry clutched his chest and tried to breathe, blinking the tears away. Then he got up and pushed through the growing crowd around the shack. He had to keep going.
“Henry! Over here!” Sean Ranger was inside, holding his
young son out the broken window and looking frantic. “Can you take Lukas? I can’t find Ava!”
Henry rushed up and took the boy. Sean used his sleeve to clear out the rest of the glass, then helped a few others get through the window. He disappeared into the shack to look for his daughter.
“Go on,” a man by the window said to Henry. “Move out of the way so we can get more people out.”
Overwhelmed, Henry hurried away from the disaster with Lukas. The five-year-old was crying. He was missing a shoe, and he had a bruise turning purple on his arm and one on his cheek. A thin trickle of blood ran down his leg. Henry set the boy down and examined him. Finding his injuries to be minor, he tried soothing him. “There,” said Henry, distracted and looking anxiously for his teens to surface from the stampede. “It’s going to be okay.” With relief, Henry spotted one of his and Thatcher’s recently adopted girls, Clementi Okafor, at another window helping others out. Her natural spiral curls had a layer of gray dust on them, and her black skin shone with sweat. Henry caught sight of Clementi’s brother Ibrahim, from the same purge group of Unwanteds, assisting her from the
inside. “Thank goodness,” Henry murmured. Hopefully the rest were close by.
Lukas sniffled, drawing Henry’s attention back. “Where’s Ava?” asked the boy. “I want my dad.”
“She’s . . . She’ll be coming any minute. Your dad is going after her. It’s just a little shack, so it shouldn’t be too hard. They’ll find us out here.”
“Everybody fell on each other,” said Lukas tearfully. “I got hit in the face.”
Henry sucked in a breath, imagining what it must have been like to have the entire population of Artimé, on multiple floors and in a variety of additional magical rooms that took up no space, suddenly and entirely converge in the single gray shack when the mansion disappeared. He kept seeing more and more people struggling to get out. With other Artiméans rushing forward to help at the exits, there wasn’t much Henry could do at the moment but stare and feel the horror he’d felt when he was ten years old—the first time Artimé had disappeared and Alex had taken him under his wing.
Alex is dead.
The reminder hit him like a sucker punch to the gut. It
repeated over and over in his thoughts. He tried to rationalize—tried to come up with reasons why it couldn’t be so. Maybe Alex had just gotten too far away from home and had moved outside of his magely range, assuming there was one. Silently Henry counted the days since Alex and Thatcher and the rest of the rescue team had left, and he knew Alex would have been in the land of the dragons for a while. So it didn’t seem likely that he’d somehow be out of range now if he hadn’t been yesterday.
Alex. Is dead.
Sean came running over to them, bloodied and battered, with six-year-old Ava in his arms. She seemed to be okay, with just a few cuts and scratches on her arms and one of her legs. Henry checked her injuries and made sure she was all right. Then he looked up at Sean with dread, not sure what to say in front of the children.
Sean held Henry’s gaze for a moment, then shook his head sorrowfully. “He’s . . . gone. He’s got to be.”
Henry swallowed hard. Hearing Sean say it made it seem real. Permanent. Sorrow enveloped him. But fear did too. If Alex was dead . . . what about Thatcher? And Lani? And
Carina and the others on the rescue team? Were they dead too? He pushed the horror of that thought aside and nodded. “We need to get to Aaron—bring him over here right away. He knows the spell. He has an extra robe.”
“Henry,” said Sean, “we can’t get to him. The tubes are gone. We’d have to take a ship. It’ll take days.”
“Can’t we send a seek spell—” Henry cut himself off, annoyed and disheartened. “Sorry. Of course not.” He thought for a moment as his anxiety built. “Who else knows what to do?”
Sean looked up. “Claire Morning does. She has a robe. She’s familiar with the spell, too.”
“Is she in Artimé?” Henry’s eyes swept the area.
“I don’t think she came today.”
“Let’s go to Quill and find her, then.” Henry glanced back at the chaos surrounding the shack, confirming that, like Sean’s and his kids’, most people’s wounds were superficial. His adopted Unwanteds would be all right—they’d been through worse. And there were people helping at all the exits. He spotted a few of the nurses assisting the injured, but without medicine or the hospital ward, they couldn’t do much.
Neither could Henry. “Hang on a minute,” he told Sean. He ran over to one of the nurses to explain where he was going and put her in charge while he was gone. “Keep an eye out for the rest of my kids, will you?” he asked. “Clementi and Ibrahim are there by the east window, but they’re the only ones I’ve seen emerge so far.”
“Of course,” said the nurse, knowing it was more important for Henry to go after Claire so they could get the magic back as quickly as possible. Before chaos turned to disaster.
Sean and Henry each took a child on their backs and turned toward Quill, where Claire Morning now lived. At the sight of the larger part of the island, they both gasped, because they’d forgotten something else.
Quill was gone too. Everything there looked even worse than in Artimé. It was nothing but old burned land and sooty rubble. And angry, nonmagical Quillens were coming toward them in droves.