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“Consider the feeling mutual,” Oliver snapped.

They stood there awhile, the two of them, chests heaving as they glared at each other. Each was fighting a difficult personal battle, and both were too proud to share aloud their pain.

Finally, Alice grew tired of being angry (it was an exhausting occupation) and collapsed onto the ground, biting lip and cheek and knuckle to keep from bursting into tears once more.

This, Oliver seemed to understand.

Carefully, cautiously, he sat down beside her, and a beat later, they spoke at the same time.

He said, “Do you truly dislike me more than anything else?”

And she said, “Oh, Oliver, I’ve lost everything, haven’t I?”

And Oliver blinked, stunned. His heart, so hard just moments ago, softened as he realized that, for today at least, Alice’s battles were greater than his own. He spoke gently when he said, “Of course you haven’t.”

Alice looked up at him, round eyes full to the brim and shining. She managed a small smile. “You’re a terrible liar.”

“Well then,” he said, failing to suppress a smile of his own. “Come with me. Come and find what you’ve lost.”

“But how will I ever be able to trust you?” She sniffed and wiped at her eyes, determined to pull herself together. “I haven’t the slightest inclination to run off any place with any persons who tell more lies than truths.”

At this, Oliver raised an eyebrow and smiled. It was perplexing, yes, but the boy appeared to be flattered, and we won’t bother wondering why. Either way, he was now digging around in his messenger bag for something or other, and Alice was caught, deeply curious. Not a moment later Oliver reemerged, clutching no fewer than five scrolls in his fist, his smile triumphant.

“I have maps,” was all he said.

Alice gasped appropriately.

(Dear reader: For you and I, the acquiring of maps is an altogether unimpressive feat, as maps are, generally speaking, abundant and available to any persons desiring such things. But we must remind ourselves that in Ferenwood, maps were a rare commodity; and for Alice, they were a fierce reminder of Father. Making maps, you will remember, was his lifelong work.)

Oliver, of course, understood this.

Alice made an odd, startled sort of noise, and he nodded. “Yes,” he said. “They are indeed your father’s maps. The Elders gave them to me before I set off for my task.”

Alice appeared unable to speak, so Oliver plowed on.

“They’ve been searching for him since he left, you know.”

Oliver paused, again allowing Alice an opportunity to respond. When she didn’t, he said, “But they couldn’t find the right person for the job until last year, at my Surrender. That’s when they knew my skills would be just the ticket.” Oliver grinned. “Impressive, no?”

“What else do you have in that bag?” Alice finally said, eyes narrowing.

“Nothing you need to be bothered with,” he said quickly.

Alice opened her mouth to protest when Oliver interrupted her, hastily shoving the maps away. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I shan’t share a detail more unless you agree to help.”

At this, Alice took a long and deep and careful breath.

Finally, she relented. “Alright,” she said, and exhaled. “I’ll go with you. I’ll help.”

Oliver, to his credit, looked so surprised Alice thought he might weep. But Alice hadn’t meant to do Oliver any favors; her decision was motivated entirely by self-interest. The way she saw it, she had only two choices now: find Father with Oliver, or stay in Ferenwood and live forever in shame.

So she nodded. “I give you my word.”

“Oh, Alice,” Oliver said, reaching out. “Thank you—”

“Don’t thank me yet,” she said, swatting at his hand as she got to her feet, eager to put some distance between them. She didn’t want Oliver to think she was thrilled about the situation. “You are certain you know where Father is?”

“Yes,” he said, clambering to his feet as well. “Yes, yes. But—don’t you see? Knowing means nothing when there’s doing to be done. It’s the getting to your father that I can’t do.”

Alice clasped her hands and considered the sky, pressing her lips together as she did. She looked Oliver square in the eye, all the while digging the toes of her right foot into the grass. “And can you be sure you know where he is?”

Oliver looked like he might fall dead of exasperation. “Have you been hearing nothing I’ve been saying? Of course I know where your father is, but that doesn’t—”

“Yes, yes,” Alice said, waving a hand. “I heard all your etceteras. But just because I know you’re not lying doesn’t make it any easier for me to believe you.”

Oliver studied her carefully. He reached into his bag and pulled out yet another scroll of parchment that he then unrolled in the palm of his hand. The paper lay flat as a board for something that had been so tightly wound, but when Oliver next touched it, it shuddered to life. Slowly it grew, the rectangle of paper shivering into a three-dimensional box taller than Oliver was wide. He touched the top with three fingers for three seconds, and the top disappeared.

“Come then,” he said to her, motioning with his free hand. “Come have a look at where your father has gone.”

Alice was horrified.

“Father is in that box?” she gasped, clasping a hand to her chest. “Has he been trapped? Or broken? Do we have to put him back together? Oh, Oliver, I don’t know a lick about fixitation—”

“He’s not broken,” Oliver said, shaking his head at the clouds. “Just come here and look,” he said. “For heaven’s sake.”