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“Well maybe I don’t want you to hold my hand,” Alice snapped, cheeks pinking. “And anyway, I had been wondering why—”

“I am trying to keep us safe!” Oliver shouted, so angry now he was practically shaking. “I need to be near you in order to quietly convince everyone to leave us be! And what thanks do I get for all this? None. None at all. You’re running off, breaking away, charging into strangers! You make everything so much more difficult!”

Oliver threw his hands in the air.

Alice shoved him in the chest. Twice. “Maybe if you’d been honest with me about what to expect—”

“Maybe if you’d been patient, or even bothered to ask nicely—”

“I am not incompetent!” Alice cried. “And I don’t appreciate your patronizing me! In fact, I’ve no doubt I could find my own way through Furthermore, without a bit of help from you—”

“Is that right?” Oliver’s eyes flashed.

“Right as rainlight!”

“So you really think,” Oliver said, stepping closer, “that you’d have gotten five feet farther without my saving you from your own silly stories? You think anyone would’ve believed you?”

Alice’s confidence faltered. Her stomach did a nervous flip.

Oliver looked away, shaking his head. “In charge of the sun,” he said. “Really. What nonsense was that? Of all the things to say!”

He ran both hands through his hair, losing steam.

“Don’t you understand why your father was tasked to me? Why the Elders sent me here, to Furthermore, to a land of tricks and puzzles? I have the gift of persuasion, Alice. And, yes, it grants me the ability to know the deepest secret of every person I meet, but the people of Furthermore are nothing like the people of Ferenwood, and their deepest secrets hardly help me at all, making the task infinitely more complicated. And if you think navigating this land is hard for me, it would be a sight near impossible for you.”

“I beg to diff—”

“Forgive me,” he said, exhausted. “I didn’t intend that as an insult. Truly. It’s just that some things in Furthermore are about more than being smart. In fact,” he said, “most of it is about lying, tricking, and the luck of just barely surviving.” He looked up, looked her in the eye. “Alice, this land is not generous. It does not forgive. And it would kill to devour you.

“There is only one reason I have not yet met your father’s fate, and it’s that I have the ability to convince others to believe what I want them to believe. So please,” he said. “Please trust me enough to do the one thing I’m any good at. If we don’t stick together, we’re lost for good.”

Alice hung her head.

“But even you couldn’t save Father,” she said, staring into the darkness. “Even persuasion wasn’t enough.”

“No.” Oliver sighed. “Not the first time, at least. But we’ll get it right this time. I swear it.”

Alice closed her eyes and hugged herself, more terrified for Father than ever before. Furthermore was brilliant and frightening, and though she’d only seen a small slice of it, she could now understand perfectly well why Father had been so enchanted. But it was becoming clear to her that Furthermore was full of quiet dangers, and it would not be wise to be too easily distracted. It would be simple to get lost here—lost and destroyed—and she had not realized that Oliver had been looking after her all this time, quietly convincing this world to leave her unharmed.

The truth was, she hadn’t trusted Oliver. Not really. He’d hurt her somewhere deep—wounded her pride and her vanity —and it made her cold and hard and stubborn. But she could see now that she was being difficult, and fighting Oliver would do them no good. Father needed her, and that meant she had to trust Oliver, no matter how nothing he thought she looked.

Oliver lifted her chin with one finger, and when their eyes met, they both apologized. Regrets and reconciliations, all at once.

Oliver almost smiled.

Alice almost did, too.

Then she slipped her hand in his and held on tight.


They walked for days. Weeks. Months and years.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Oliver said. “It’s only been fifteen minutes.”

“But I’m cold.” Alice sneezed.

Oliver stopped to stare at her. “Yes, I daresay you are.” He looked a bit defeated as he looked her over. They were friends again and making their way out of Slumber, feet pounding the cobblestoned path. “Alright,” he said, pulling her close. “Don’t worry. We’re almost there.”

But almost there was still too far, and the farther they walked, the farther the town stayed behind, keeping its lights with it. They’d wound their way through the center of Slumber, Alice’s eyes eating up what her stomach could not: the fire-like glow; the slinky black backdrop; the hustle and bustle and the sounds that came with it. It was chilly but it was alive, chimney-puffing and storytelling and snips of conversations the strangest strangers left on sidewalks.

They were leaving it all behind.

“So where do we go?” she asked Oliver. “To get the pocketbook?”

“Up,” he said cheerfully.

“My goodness, Oliver, have we learned nothing in the last half hour? Up is not an answer.”

“Right,” he said, startled. “Right, forgive me. I meant up, you know, in the sky. I hid it in the clouds, you see.”

Alice was beginning to realize that the explanations she’d so desperately sought were now only adding to her confusion. She was no longer certain she wanted to understand Furthermore.

In any case, she felt another sneeze coming, so she let go of Oliver’s hand and grabbed on to his tunic, bracing herself for the impact. But the sneeze was a false alarm, and when it passed it left her sniffling; she could feel her nose slowly growing numb. The last dregs of the sun’s heat had left them, and warmth was in short supply. “So, Oliver,” she said, still sniffling. “Tell me. Why did you fail?”