31 – The First Inquisition
The glow of Ray and Savannah’s faces matched that of the rising sun: “He’s waking up!”
When Marion came to at the hospital, his steadfast friends crowded the bedside.
“Marion, what happened last night?!” demanded an uber-concerned Ray.
“Yeah! You know you’ve been on the news?!” Savannah added.
“You act like I won an award.” Marion replied groggily.
“Seriously, though, what happened?” prodded Savannah.
“Oh my God, guys, you’ll never believe what happened! It was-“ Marion suddenly broke off his speech; an air of seriousness wash over his face.
Marion pushed himself up into a full sitting position. Shaking his head and making mouthing movements with one hand, he indicated to the others not to talk. Taking Ray’s hand, he traced something. Ray understood immediately. Savannah wondered whether the situation was really so dire, but she kept silent.
Outside in the hallway, voices grew chaotic. The three friends snapped their heads towards the door as it pushed open.
   
32 – I’m Sorry, You Two Will Have To Leave
In walked hospital staff, who, seeing Marion’s condition, waved others to come in: a C.A.T.S. sergeant and three headmasters.
They wouldn’t let Ray and Savannah stay. Clearly, they intended to interrogate Marion to the nth degree. Seeing the concern on his friends’ faces, Marion reassured them. “Don’t worry. I’m a lot better now. We’ll hang out later!” So Ray and Savannah left, with a little concern and skepticism still visible on their brows.
The click of the door behind her gave Savannah a pang of dread. “I really wish we could stay in there, just to support Marion. What do you think they’ll do? What do you think’s going on?”
Ray slowed down his thinking a little bit. Marion’s tracing on his palm had impressed him. Measuring his words, he sought to divert Savannah from speaking too much more, “Don’t worry about it! Let’s just chill outside.”
   
33 – The Second Inquisition
Marion’s self-confidence must’ve left the room with his friends. Surrounded by so many serious, questioning adults, his palms began to sweat.
“Marion, we need to know what happened to Master Archidemus. What did you see?”
The truth was a bird, caged by distrust in Marion’s chest. He wanted so much to tell them everything, scream out every terrible last little detail, yet he couldn’t. And why? It was the way some of the eyes in the room peered at him, beady and black, making his sixth sense tingle. It was like they were thirsty for a few details for their own personal use.
“I think…I think Master Archidemus was kidnapped.” A tumbling fight ensued between Marion’s inner voice and his outer voice.
“Did you see who took him?” pressed another.
“Uh, uh…” Marion’s anxiety skyrocketed. How could he tell his own school leaders that he didn’t trust them?
“Tell us what you saw! Please! It matters a great deal. The Academy may be in imminent danger.”
“I didn’t see what happened because I was hit on the head from behind.”
“Then, why did you say he was kidnapped?”
“I said I think he was kidnapped.”
“Why do you think so?”
“I heard him struggling to fight someone else.”
A few of the adults recoiled at this confirmation of something that they already believed, but which nonetheless stilled scared them deeply. Who or what could possibly overpower Master Archidemus, one-on-one, here at the school, in Master Archidemus’ own apartment, and make a clean getaway?
Others seemed less surprised. Their eyes darted from side to side, as if they were gathering their own clues to feed on.
The doctor seized the moment to interject, “I think that Marion needs more rest now.”
The adults regarded the doctor, some with a slight contempt.
“Well, alright, doctor. Marion, we’ll continue this tomorrow. I’m sorry if we have disturbed you too much.”
“Yes, thank you, Marion! You’ve been so brave through all this.”
After they were gone, Marion lowered his head and a few tears fell. He didn’t know if he had protected Master Archidemus or condemned him.
   
34 – Someone May Be Listening
Outside the school hospital, Ray and Savannah plopped down on a bench near an old willow tree. They couldn’t stop thinking about Marion.
“What did he trace on your hand?”
“A time and a place to meet.”
In a low voice, Ray proceeded, “Savannah, we’ve got to be more careful with our words now than ever before. Marion’s trying to let us know that someone may be listening.”
Savannah traced a few letters in the air.
The school bell rang.
“Time for first period. I almost forgot.” a carefree tone returned to Ray’s voice.
“Flashcard Arts I.”
A grin spread across Savannah’s face. “Keep trying. Maybe you’ll catch up to me one day.”
“Not all of us had memory masters in our families.” quipped Ray.
The two rose and disappeared into the fray of crisscrossing students.
Unbeknownst to them, someone else emerged from behind the tree to follow.
   
35 – Whoops!
One could have said Ray and Savannah looked zoned out in their classes that day, but it would’ve been an extreme understatement. Physically, they took up space in their seats and breathed, but that was about it. Their minds traveled to every point on the map they’d been over the past couple weeks, trying to piece together the larger picture. What was going on? What did Marion think was happening?
Flashcards came across as the least useful thing to Savannah at the moment. What was the teacher saying? Cardcasting? What?
“…and when you do that the card will be burning fast, so you can’t hold it in your hands for very long. Make sure you cast it at the right time or it will have little to no effect besides hurting you.”
‘Well, I’d better start paying attention’ was what Savannah thought she thought, until the teacher announced, “I agree, Miss Leitner!”
   
36 – Who Was That?!
“…and if you get the card right, it graduates to the next level. If you get it wrong, it drops back to the first level.”
Ray already understood that well enough, thanks to the Leitner in his life, so his imagination took full flight in the introductory Flashcard Arts class.
As he woolgathered, his eyes flitted about the room, dwelling on various things quite randomly.
There was Mrs. Alabaster, robe collar askew. Why could she never fix that? What did Marion talk about with the school leaders?
There was her canister of quills and inkwell, looking immaculate- funny how that’s always arranged perfectly! How could we secretly reach the location Marion specified? Is that even necessary?
There was a poster of some famous cardlanger. What was his name again? Does time actually reverse upon entering classrooms?
Ray’s blood ran cold: somebody stared at him from the hallway, through the window of the classroom door, but vanished the moment their eyes met.
   
37 – Double Nightmare
Somewhere in the depths of the Extinctors’ fortresses, Finders tortured Master Archidemus. “You will help us to get him,” they rasped.
“Who?” Master Archidemus asked weakly.
“What boy? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe this will help you remember.”
Master Archidemus called out in pain and Marion shot awake in the hospital bed. He touched the bed on either side of his legs to confirm the reality of his surroundings.
“Oh, God. What was that?” whispered Marion.
“What was what?”
Marion let out another gasp of fright and turned.
It was one of the school elders from the day before, sitting in the corner of his room, watching him, with black and beady eyes.
“Oh nothing,” covered Marion, “just a bad dream I guess. You know, I’ve been through a lot of crazy stuff lately.”
“Your bad dream is just beginning, Mr. Erie. We need a lot more information today than you gave us yesterday.”
   
38 – The Third Inquisition
Marion’s head spun. He didn’t know if he was still in a dream or not, but he wished that he was. The same cast of characters from yesterday’s drama returned.
“Are you aware that Master Archidemus owned a book of black magic?” This elder Marion could stand. At least he had a friendly face.
“Well, uh, no sir. A black book? I don’t recall.”
“Book of black magic.”
Marion winced. He’d let something slip. “Black magic? No, I never knew him to have anything like that.”
“According to the findings of our research teams,“ the fright in the corner rasped, “Master Archidemus owned a book of black magic, which permitted Extinctors or Finders or something to enter.”
“He’s right, Marion.” The elder with the friendly face confirmed. “And because of this, I’m afraid the board will make no move to help Master Archidemus. Not anytime soon, at least.”
“What?” The realization hit Marion harder than the vase: no one would try to rescue Master Archidemus.
   
39 – Cardlanger Academy
Sunlight refracted off a kaleidoscope of roof tiles. The minarets of towers launched to the firmament. Trunks and branches twisted their way through holes in the walls specially built for them. In the dappled light of the shade below the trees, students moseyed in the off hours.
The layout of Cardlanger Academy boggled outsiders. Of course, it wasn’t built for them; it was built for cardlangers. The design provided a playground for the practice of telecarding, among other things; many rooms jutted out from cliffsides or hovered in midair, quite inaccessible to anyone who lacked the skill. Entrance halls of high traffic buildings required high-tech devices to help prevent telecarders from crashing into each other.
Through this scene Marion jogged eagerly to meet his friends at the appointed time. The fresh air and bright sunbeams renewed his hope. The news he carried was too heavy; it needed to be shared.
   
40 – The Appointed Time And Place
Marion quietly climbed a wall of the school and appeared before Ray and Savannah with a sprightly side flip.
“I thought this was supposed to be a secret.” Savannah smirked, but you could tell she was happy and relieved. Everybody shared a hug. Marion was okay.
“Your head must’ve recovered if you can flip around like that!” observed Ray.
“I’m okay,” said Marion, “but someone else isn’t.”
Ray and Savannah nodded solemnly. Master Archidemus.
Marion continued, “The school leaders aren’t gonna go after him.”
“They said he wasn’t supposed to have that book in the first place. They said he endangered the school.”
“What should we do?” Ray paced the grove.
“That’s easy,” Marion answered, “We’re gonna save him.”
“What? You’re crazy! How?” Savannah shook her head, “We don’t know any skills besides telecarding and we can’t even do that well. If anything goes wrong we might get killed, the school might be attacked, and Archidemus would be killed just the same.”
“Maybe she’s right, Marion. If the school won’t try to save him, what makes you think we could save him?”
Marion rested his hands on his friends’ shoulders. “I don’t know if we can save him. I just know we have to try.”