Devon stood outside the bedroom door, fist posed to knock. It felt as if she had been here for hours. The hallway on the second floor of Rena’s house was sparse of clocks. The only bastard to mark the creeping passage of time was a peculiar grandfather clock standing atop a pair of stilt-like chicken legs.
Devon glanced towards it. Five minutes. She sighed. The hard part was over, so why was this so difficult?
Finally, Devon forced herself to knock. Silence for moment, than a warm, musical voice called from the other side of the door.
“Just a second, ma’am, I’ll be right there!”
Devon held her breath, trying to calm her racing heart. Floorboards creaked as feet patterned in her direction. Devon’s heart leapt as the door creaked opened.
Devon was struck by an odd case of deja vu. A face appeared in the doorway. A dim corona of light outlined the head of a young man, framing his pale complection and turning platinum hair into glittering strands of stardust.
Faded pink eyes regarded Devon dumbfoundedly. She about to say something a smile as sunny as daybreak dawned. Devon couldn’t remember anyone who looked at her with such frank joy.
“H-hey, Opal,” Devon said sheepishly. “Dropped by to trade with the old lady. Thought maybe I’d say hi and-”
A hand, as smooth as porcelain yet as strong as steel, clamped around Devon’s wrist. Before she knew it, she was yanked off her feet and into the bedroom.
The landscape of Rena’s house changed completely once inside of Opal’s room. The clutter which dominated kitchen and den stopped were nowhere to be seen here.
From her place on Opal’s bed, Devon was surrounded by four steril walls the color of soot. The only pieces of furniture here was an old dresser and a small sewing station in the corner of the room.
Time and time again, Devon found her gaze wandered to the ancient sewing machine. The spools of thread stacked there were the only real splashes of color in the room.
The biggest difference of all was the quiet. Not even the faintest tik or tok heard up here.
Opal stood before Devon, a flowing evening gown pressed tightly to his lanky frame. The crimson garnet seemed to bleed against the milky flesh of his arms.
“You couldn’t have come at a better time,” Opal said merrily. “I've had this beauty tucked away in the closet for a week now, and I still don’t know how it looks on anyone. I don’t have a mirror, and Rena... well...”
An image of the hunched crone in the vibrant gown, with its long hem pooling around her bony ankles, made Devon giggle.
“Trust me, you don't even need to explain. Picturing it says enough.”
Opal threw his head back and laughed. The sound was melodic, like the twittering of a bird.
He did another half-turn and the gown rippled as made of sequins. To see such a rich color after weeks of rooting around through ash and soot. Devon touched the ring of scar and stitch around her wrist, her smiling face slowly growing somber.
“You’re far too talented for this world, Snowflake. Far too talented.”
Something in Devon’s tone made Opel pause. He studied her, brow furrowed.
“Something’s troubling you.” A statement, not a question.
Opal took a step towards Devon, the gown now draped over one arm. Vipers of anxiety wrestled in the pit of Devon’s stomach. She forced herself to remain composed as she laid a hand on the bag beside her.
“I want to show something, but... I have to know that you can keep it secrete first.”
Opal’s spirit dwindled at the word ‘secrete’. He bit the corner of his lower lip. When he spoke again, it was in a hushed whisper.
“Maybe you shouldn’t. Secrets aren’t nice… not in this house…” Opal couldn’t help a quick glance over his shoulder.
Devon forced herself to smile. “I know, Snowflake, secrets are scary… but it’s something I need to show you. In fact, It’s something I want you to sow. Sounds fun, no?”
Though still sceptical, Devon saw Opal’s eyes light up.
“Promise me first. You don’t have to help, but you have to promise me you’ll keep this secret.”
It only took Opal a second to make up his mind. The thought of an actual commision was all too enticing for him. There was no disguising his enthusiasm now, for Opal’s face was glowing like a night light.
“Not word, I promise. Now show me.”
Devon sighed. She hadn’t realized that she had been holding her breath. Carely, Devon undid the bag’s drawstring. She rummaged around for a second before pulled out a flap of what would the strangest material Opal would ever see in his life.
Opal’s gaze widened. “That… no. Is that what I think it is?”
“Come and feel it for yourself. Just a touch and you’ll know for sure.”
Drawing closer, Opal reached for the material. His fingers twitched with curiosity. The swatch of feathers was soft, finer than any silk, yet as yielding as leather. Devon was right, just a touch and Opal knew that this was a wingtip.
Opal stared at Devon, mouth slack. “A Guardian’s wing? Where? How!”
“Not so loud,” Devon hissed. “I didn’t kill a Guardian if that’s what your thinking, as if I actually could.”
“So what, you just-” Opal shuddered. “-found a...”
“Yeah, I found a dead Guardian.”
Devon’s expression grew grave as she recanted the story. “Two days ago I was out doing my rounds in the Fringes. Some asshole had found my sweet spot to the north. It was pretty picked over when I got there. Well.. I didn’t want to just lose a day of scavenging, so I decided to push farther out some.”
Opal plucked at the collar of his shirt unconsciously, a nervous tick Devon saw rarely.
“But isn’t that dangerous? Rena’s told me some nasty things about the Fringes.”
Devon laughed horsley. “You bet your ass it’s dangerous. What you touched should be proof enough of that. Anyways, it was about an hour and a half later when I found him… just lying face down in the rubbage. He was stone cold, but not… you know, too corpsy. Couldn’t see what killed him either. I think he just feel dead out of the air.”
Opal shivered. “And he was just laying there?”
“Just laying there.” Devon looking down at the bundle in her lap.
The wing tip hanging out of the bag’s mouth was softer than anything Devon knew of, yet, she couldn’t help but feel repulsed by it. Soft or not, it was still a bag of mutilated flesh.
“I spent the better half of an hour sawing these damn things off. Did you know their blood is gold? I do...”
A lumbering minute of silence passed between the friends. Opal was horror stricken. His throat worked to regurgitate the words lodged there, until at last he coughed out a whisper.
“Why did you bring this here? Why’d you bring it to me? This… this bad, Decon. This is a death warrant at best.”
When Devon lifted her head, Opal was chilled further by the hard severity in her gaze. Devon’s only response was to raise her right arm. Opal saw the crimson stitching interwoven into a bracelet of scar tissue and understood. How could he not understand? That clean bit of stitchwork was his own.
Opal swayed on his feet. “You… you can’t be serious…”
“I’m dead serious. Life here in High Harbor is just as much of a death warrant. I know you can’t fully understand that, Snowflake, but I also know that’s not your fault. Rena keeps you locked up here, away from the Proctor and the Guardians. You can see a few of the crispy remains of their raids, but you don’t see how their not just burning one house every now and then. No, they’re taking out blocks at a time.”
Devon paused, struggling with a cumbersome boulder of emotion.
“They torched the neighborhood right next to my house yesterday. My place is covered in the ashes of people I’ve known my whole life. I can’t be certain my block won’t be joining them soon, Snowflake, but I can assure you I don’t intend on going up like a tinderbox. ”