The rumpled horizon swam under Devin's gaze, and he shook his head to shake the exhaustion back a few paces. He'd thought he felt a spark of recognition, but it was just his brain formulating false memories in the place of true ones.
He'd told Darcy's gang a boy had given him the answers, but as much as Devin racked his brain, the only boys' faces that appeared were those of the Loup. At one point he thought he'd snagged a memory, but it turned out his ramshackle mind had just combined the features of Tynan and Rolf to create a vaguely familiar face.
Devin was not a spiritual man, but he figured he was fast on his way to becoming one. He held firm to his belief that there was something, anything better out there. It never crossed his mind that the Master might have saved Devin and his fellow Knights from a crazy, dangerous world. Besides, Devin would have thought to tell Darcy's gang if he and Rolf had run into a hellhole during their mission.
No, there was a better place out there, and whether it was a day's run or a year-long marathon to get to it, Devin was going to find it one day. It was as inevitable to Devin as the fact that he was about to turn and go downstairs for food.
But, Devin pondered as he trooped down the stairs, he still didn't know how to get from point A to point B. Sure, Tynan was talking about carrying some food on their backs and setting off southeast, but that was a ridiculously general plan. Too many things could go wrong.
“Devin,” someone murmured, and Devin turned to see the interminable black eyes of Gethin staring him down. “Tynan wants a word.”
Devin shrugged and continued on to the kitchen. “I'll be up as soon as I find something to eat.”
Gethin's arm swung up and smashed Devin's chin to the left, while the other grabbed Devin's collar and pushed him roughly up to the nearest wall. “Tynan wants to speak now,” he hissed, dark eyes flashing.
“Who does Tynan think he is― Darcy?” Devin snapped, shaking roughly out of Gethin's grasp. “He's as much in charge as Rolf, and you know it. So why don't you tell him to step off his throne and meet me in the kitchen if it's that urgent?”
Gethin grumbled something that sounded like “Don't shoot the messenger,” but slunk off. Chin smarting, realizing he probably should've hit Gethin back, Devin continued down to the kitchen.
Tension was slowly winding its way around the school, and if something didn't get planned soon it would cause the foundation of the castle to crack. Perhaps Devin should've gone up to Tynan. The two of them probably were the closest to making anything happen, after all. Devin really didn't have any qualms about letting someone else take charge; he just wasn't ready for a second tyrant to rule the school so utterly as Darcy had.
Doubt was creeping up along with the tension, Devin realized. Just as he turned to go and find Tynan, the albino himself stalked into the kitchen, smoldering.
“We're not going to get anything done if we don't work together,” he snapped, leaning against the door. “I thought you agreed.”
“I do,” Devin replied coolly, keeping his back to the albino.
“Well, then we need to get to work.”
“The Master,” Devin blurted, just as the thought hit his mind. The old man may have been crazy, but he was the reason they were all stuck in the middle of nowhere. He had to be clever if his plans had gotten him so far.
“What about him?”
“We might need to get something out of him,” Devin said, finally turning. Tynan, to his frustration, looked just faintly interested. “We need to leave, but we still don't quite know what we're getting into. We need someone to get a little closer to him, see if the old man has any last words of wisdom for his precious Knights.”
“Wisdom or fucked up riddles...” mused Tynan, stroking a beard he didn't have. “Fine. It's worth looking into. Come tell me what you find out.” And with that he turned on his heel and left. Devin gaped open-mouthed after him.
Well. Perhaps Tynan had learned more from Darcy than Devin had originally thought.
“Hello?” Devin asked, knocking on the solid door that marked the entrance to the Master's study.
“Come in,” the Master called out, and Devin slipped into the formidable room.
“Ah, Devin,” the Master sighed. “What brings you here today?”
“I have some food?” Devin offered a plate of tarts and eclairs forward. He could have sworn the Master raised his nose and sniffed the air before gesturing for Devin to bring him the treats. Wasn't Devin supposed to be the animal?
“To what do I owe this surprise?” asked the Master, fingering several of the tarts. Devin watched the old man carefully select his sweet, a chocolate cream-filled pastry with an indulgence of powdered sugar.
Devin had discovered the secret of the sweets cupboard three years ago, during a particularly bad spell of violence that had swallowed the school and sent Devin diving for cover. Once, when a fight had broken out over nothing in the kitchen, a panicked Devin had actually fled into a cupboard. To his surprise, he'd found himself leaning backward into a false wall, which collapsed under his weight. Hidden behind the ruins of the fake backing was a secret stash of treats. They were dusty, but strangely preserved. Perhaps the Master had hid them there long ago and forgotten about them. Or maybe he cared about his students more than they could imagine, and had left a gift for those with curiosity enough to find it.
Either way, Devin had been slowly consuming the dusty pastries for a long time. And now the Master didn't mention their sudden reappearance. After all, Devin could just claim he'd found them in a cupboard: there was no rule against sitting in cabinets. Yet.
“I...” Devin gulped through a suddenly dry throat. No one willingly visited the Master.
“Found my hidden pastries?” the Master winked over his food. “Not to worry my boy, no hard feelings.”
Devin resisted the urge to shudder, but the Master seemed to read his mind and smiled dryly. “Have a seat,” the old man said, gesturing forward.
Devin inched onto the offered chair, with only one thought running through his mind: What an awful idea. Whatever Devin had intended, and he barely knew what it was himself, the Master saw right through it.
“So?” the Master finally said, swallowing the last of the pastry. “As much as I would hope you all lived to bring me desserts, I'm a realistic man. Are you ready to talk yet?”
Devin took a deep breath. “You may have noticed everyone's been... curious lately,” he began, “and nervous, a little. I was thinking, if you cleared a few things up, people would be less, er, restless.”
“What things did you have in mind?”
“Oh, I dunno...” Devin felt his cool manner slipping rapidly, and grasped at the last few threads of dignity with a question on the innocent side. “Where are we?”
“We're in a little country called Scotland,” the Master replied smoothly. “I did tell you about it, I know I must have. Our lovely planet is made up of countries, Scotland one of many. And that is where our school sits.”
Scotland. It rolled nicely off the tongue. But so did Edinburgh, Devin reminded himself.
“Anything else?” the Master smirked.
“Er... not off the top of my head,” Devin admitted, trying to look sheepish. The Master liked his prey weak and trembling. “Anything you'd like to add?”
“Oh, Devin, you're a sharp one,” the Master said, “one of the sharpest here I think, especially now that Darcy is no longer with us. I know there are millions of questions bubbling right below the surface. Choose one.”
So. This was the kind of game Darcy had played all the time. It was nerve wracking: Devin felt transparent under the Master's gaze, and no matter which direction Devin took, the man always steered the conversation another. But Devin couldn't back down now. He fumbled through his many questions, ignoring the ones concerning wands, werewolves, the outside world...
“How old am I?” the words slipped out so fast Devin had to check he'd been the one to utter them. They were childish, ignorant. But a part of him realized he cared about the answer more than he'd previously thought. He knew so little about himself; how could he know the person he wanted to be if he didn't have a foundation to build on?
“Ah, Devin. You are eighteen. Your birthday was last Tuesday, as a matter of fact. The thirtieth of June.”
As malleable as he felt at the moment, Devin was elated. Not only did he know his age, he knew his birthday!
The next moment Devin caught himself. The Master was playing him well; by giving him the information so easily, he was driving Devin off course. Devin had to keep cool. Calm. If he pretended he was in control, he was one more step closer to actually having it.
“Well,” said the Master, leaning back, “that's enough questions for the moment, I think.”
“Of course,” Devin stood quickly. “I'll be seeing you soon? There're a lot more pastries.”
The Master chuckled. “But of course.”
Nodding feverishly, Devin backed out of the room. As soon as the door swung shut behind him, he dashed down the stairs to share the good news. The Master had loosened up. Talked a little. It was a step closer to the answers that would quite probably save their lives.
“Alcohol,” Tynan said, pacing back and forth on the common room floor. “We need it. I've heard about it before; the more you drink the better you feel, and the less judgement you have. The right amount will make JP loosen up, give some more answers that we can work with. It's great and all to know about other languages, and what a seagull is, but none of us give a damn about all that. We need stuff that will help. You know what I'm talking about.”
Devin nodded and twirled a stray thread from his shirt between his fingers. The last week, he'd gone up to the Master's tower almost everyday, each time with more pastries. Each time, the old coot had offered up a little more information, trying to play the good guy by offering some facts without Devin even having to ask. He'd explained there were different languages that different cultures spoke, and described a few animals that Devin had never imagined, but Tynan was right. None of that would help them. They need more things. Bigger things. And if they didn't get them soon, they would have to leave without them.
The last week, Tynan's gang had been slowly, inconspicuously stockpiling food in old sacks and clumsily sewn up rags. Everyone in the castle now knew that they were getting out of there, and were cooperating brilliantly. If only the Master could give them a clue of what they would find outside. When Devin and Rolf had left, they'd been two small kids in a big stretch of land. Now nearly fifty werewolves were sneaking out, and wanted to know what they were getting into.
“I've seen bottles of the stuff in JP's study,” Gethin said. “He's mentioned it once or twice. A long time ago. If we just snuck in while he was upstairs, asleep or something...”
“Risky,” said Tynan, “but I really do want to get something out of him. And actually, if we can get in there without him knowing, like the day before we leave, we can take some things. Papers, maybe. Something that might help us on the way. That way, if he doesn't budge, we can just get out of here with something, anything.”
“Let's do it tonight, then,” Raul said, then continued when everyone stared. “Really, why not? A few of us will sneak up once his light's off, grab whatever's closest along with the alcohol, then get out. The next day Devin brings up a strong cup of spiked coffee. There's not a ton of planning needed, and I've been ready to leave this castle for a long time.”
“I'll go,” said Devin. “I've been up there so much recently, I'll know where to look.”
“Zevi should go too,” Tynan said, squeezing the woman's hand, “she's quietest. And Gethin as well. That should be plenty.”
Gethin shrugged, and Devin clapped his hands together.
“Well, it's almost one in the morning,” Gethin said, “If no one has any objections, why don't we go get something to eat and do this?”
“If you happen to see any kids on the way, tell them to be prepared to leave tomorrow night,” Tynan whispered, “and to spread the word, quietly.”
Devin nodded. “Let's go.” He, Zevi and Gethin left Tynan standing at the entrance to the common room and headed for the Master's tower. He couldn't believe this was all happening so fast. Somehow, in the space of a few weeks, they'd gone from wandering around the castle obediently to taking the final steps of their departure. A year ago, learning how to say “hello” in another tongue would have kept Devin going for months. Now he'd brushed if off in the face of bigger and better things.
“It's after two,” Gethin breathed from Devin's right. The corridors were dark and silent, and all he could hear were their footsteps and the slow breathing of his classmates.
“The Master's light has been off for almost half an hour—” Devin began, but Gethin cut him off.
“Why do you still call him the Master?”
“Because,” Devin said, “I came along too late to get why you all called him JP.”
“That was what he told us to call him in the very beginning,” Gethin said, “before all the secrets started. Right before you got here, he made us swear to only call him the Master. We started calling him JP again a few years ago when we realized we didn't have to take his shit.”
“Shh,” Zevi spat, and they fell silent as they approached JP's study.
“In and out, guys,” Devin whispered, and he turned the knob slowly, only to have it catch in place. “What?”
“It's locked,” Gethin hissed. “Shit!”
A finger light as breeze tapped Devin on the shoulder and he started, but it was only Zevi. She held a finger to her ear, and Devin opened his mouth to explain again, perhaps she hadn't heard. But her hand came back with, of all things, a hairpin. She inserted it in the lock and twisted it around, while Gethin and Devin watched on.
“What the hell,” Gethin finally exploded in a loud whisper, “Zevi, I don't know what you're doing, but in two seconds I'm going to rip that door off its hinges―”
A tiny click came from the door then, and Zevi removed her hairpin and turned the knob. The JP's door swung silently open, and Gethin could do nothing but gape at the smirking woman,
“C'mon,” Devin breathed, leading the way in. The two followed after a beat.
They crept into the room, ducking, keeping their footsteps light. As they'd planned beforehand, Zevi and Gethin began the search for alcohol while Devin skimmed JP's desk, looking for anything that might be of value.
“This feels... odd,” Gethin murmured, as he opened a cabinet, “Like I've done this before. Searching.”
“What?” Devin said absentmindedly, looking at a handful of papers from the desk. They were just lists of types of trees. Nothing new. He placed them back in their drawer, in the same order as before.
In response, the woman held up a metal flask. She uncapped it, sniffed, and nodded.
“Good,” Devin said, “I haven't seen anything worth taking, let's g―” He stopped in mid sentence, and the sudden silence echoed ominously around the room.
“What? What is it?” Gethin hissed as Devin's sentence fell short.
“You guys better take a look at this,” Devin breathed. He held out an old, worn piece of parchment, riddled with cross-outs, that he'd pulled out of the depths of the drawer. Gethin read aloud the end result:
“'You have until December twenty-third. Two days from now. If you get me the fifty thousand Galleons before then, you can have your albino home by Christmas.'”
“Ransom,” Devin said quietly, at the same time Zevi opened her mouth.