‘This is totally the wrong roof,’ Stef said.
Ryan squeezed her hand. ‘I know,’ he said as he looked around the Agency roof. ‘But it’s safer to do it from here.’
She looked across the evening sky, towards the roof where they’d stood to watch Dajulveed’s phoenix, then shook her head. ‘Ok. Ok.’
The red phoenix stirred in her arms, feathers of flame beating against her uniform vest.
The blue, meanwhile, sat near her feet, pecking and melting the roof and eating what it could chip away. ‘…should we be letting it eat concrete?’ she asked.
‘Merlin’s top branches reach the floor below,’ Jones said, ‘some of his magic has probably leaked into the building.’
She gave a vague nod, then looked at the rising moon. It was gibbous, completely undramatic and boring. Full moons at least had a tonne of mythology and crescent moons had schoolgirls in miniskirts.
She patted the red phoenix on the red, then lifted her arms, prompting him to take flight.
It squawked, and the blue stopped eating the roof. The blue flapped unsteady wings a few times, then perched on Taylor’s head.
He’s just a natural magnet for birds, isn’t he?
Taylor looked slightly horrified, and stood statue-still.
I still dunno if this is going to work.
Just try it.
She turned to face the moon, squinted until it filled her vision, then lifted her hand and knocked on air.
Her feet lost contact with the roof.
She felt Curt’s hands grab at her, but they slipped away as she was pulled up into the sky, towards the moon. She flailed for a moment, unable to move her arm, her hand locked in a knocking fist, then forced her body to go still, and gave in to the weird upwards gravity.
Cloud rolled in as she was pulled higher.
It was so cold. Her teeth chattered as the wind ripped straight through her uniform.
Dammit, I want Ryan’s jacket.
The phoenixes circled her, easily keeping pace as they went up through the newly formed clouds.
Gravity stopped pulling on her, and she dropped a little, landing on surprisingly solid clouds.
God, I’ve always wanted to do this.
The red phoenix landed beside her, burning away the wispy top layer of the cloud as it did.
She sank to her knees, and pressed her hand into the cloud. Past the topmost wispy layer, the surface tension was impressive, but gave when she pushed harder, and let her plunge her arm into the cloud. It felt…cold, almost solid but not, thick and gassy, but more substantial. It wasn’t like fairy floss, like she’d always imagined.
You’re going to try and eat it anyway, aren’t you?
She drew her arm back up to where the cloud held the most surface tension and grabbed for a handful of it, managing to hold onto a tiny wisp of it. She quickly pressed it to her open mouth, and choked it down.
It tasted like dirty water.
Note to self, don’t do that again.
She stood, and looked around.
Across the field of clouds, the moon stood, entirely too large, too close and too real.
She bounced on her feet for a moment, testing the cloud’s ability to hold her weight, and started off towards the moon.
This can’t be real.
The phoenixes flew beside her, a weird newborn honour guard.
The light from the moon was bright, but not blinding. She hummed the Sailor Moon theme song.
This can’t be real.
Shut up, this is magic.
She stopped on the edge of the cloud field, the ends of her shoes hanging over the precipice. There was nothing below, nothing but-
She stared down and shuddered. There was nothing below. Nothing but blackness. Death’s realm. The horrible, hungry blackness that wanted to keep those who tried to do the all-or-nothing corpse run.
She backed from the edge, and looked at the moon that hung mere metres away.
So what do I do now?
Try again.
She lifted her hand and knocked again.
Losing touch with the ground was far more gentle this time. Her feet slipped away from the clouds, and she floated towards the moon, her body hanging over the darkness.
She looked to the moon, and it flickered for a moment, like two images fighting for the same space.
She had the impression of large gates opening, and the moon disappeared, the soft, suffusing light remained through.
A garden appeared, filled with phoenixes of every colour she’d ever seen, and some that- Colours that couldn’t exist, shouldn’t exist, colours her brain could process for a moment, before giving up.
The hair disappeared from around her wrist.
The phoenixes flew forward, and she was pulled towards the garden.
She saw a thin silver strand blowing in the breeze.
She looked around for the source of it. It was thin, almost insubstantial, like Death’s hair had-
It was coming from her chest.
Panic spiked, and she grabbed for the thin stream of mirror that was coming from her chest. Whatever was left of her heart was unravelling like an old jumper.
No, no, no, please no!
Her body convulsed, and everything went cold.
Her fingers refused to respond, refused to grip at her life as it spiralled away.
No, no, no, I’m supposed to live.
She felt hollow.
There was a sound, or a feeling, something deep, something indescribable, one of those truths that you just know, whether or not it makes any sense.
It was gone. It was all gone.
She made one more attempt to grab for the thin stream of mirror.
The last of the mirror slipped through her useless fingers.
She saw silver.
She fell.