In Skymoore, finding someone was rarely a challenge. Community was everything there, so finding someone who knows someone was only ever a few questions away. In the week following the Autumn sale, however, one particular citizen alluded Donovan, no matter how hard he searched.
“I can’t say I’ve ever heard of someone like that. No, think I’d remember that,” said Dan Gunfey, the scarecrow who had last month been chained to Skymoore’s lighthouse as a prank. Nobody noticed for a week.
“Yeah, I saw ‘em once, when I was a little girl,” said Delia Feldersmith, the muffin saleswoman who peddled her wares near the well. “Not in ages, though. Well, not that I’m old. You know, figure of speech.”
“They’re still around,” The Well said. “Ask Gundren Nolastname, bartender at Skymoore’s Only Alchohol Free bar. It’s one of the many alcohol-free bars over in the Soless district.”
“Ask Kurt Whethersby,” Gundren said. “Works under the bridge by Tossbane’s. Scares kids for a living.” (“Who pays him for that?” Donovan had asked. Gundren shrugged.)
“Ilsa Litter’ll steer you right,” Kurt had said, adjusting his strange, leathery mask. “Headless woman, juggles out on the port twice a week, can’t miss her. Now scram, there’s kids coming.”
Somehow, Donovan had never noticed that Ilsa Litter, who juggled a block down from Odd & Ends, was headless. He chalked that up to good juggling.
“Check in with Albert Dunerlabensingofferman. Works as a firefighter in the ag district,” she wrote on a small scrap of paper, without stopping her performance.
Albert Dunerlabensingofferman was a reptilian humanoid who ate fire, and was doing just that when Donovan found him at the site of a failed occult ritual in an almond orchard. “Hmm,” he deliberated as he chewed a mouthful of flame. “Oh, watch where you stand. Got it contained but you never know. I’d ask Karessa Plunderton if I were you.”
“Oh,” Karessa said the next day, back at Odd & Ends. “There’s two Karessa Plundertons in town. Other one’s a black-market fortune teller. I guess she knows her stuff.”
Karessa Plunderton the fortune teller operated out of an alleyway between two abandoned businesses. Donovan never saw her, for she operated out of a tinted window with a slot for money. She wasn’t cheap, but Donovan was getting desperate. “The one you seek is the gnome called Nestor Pinkly.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am incapable of lying,” she lied.
“Nestor Pinkly the gnome artificer?”
“The very same.”
“Ginger fellow? Mustache? Hat?”
“Automaton friend? Cane?”
“Co-owns Odd & Ends?”
“Please leave me alone.”
“Oh, I wish I’d met them! But no, I can’t say I have, Mr. Allman,” Nestor said. “Karessa! Who is the young man who came by here the other day? The detective?”
“Huzzah! Maybe you could consult him?” Nestor suggested.
Donovan was taking all suggestions at this point.
Yes, I could do that, Roland projected into Donovan’s mind upon hearing his request. We’ve never done a missing person’s case before.
Donovan never met any partners in solving crimes, so he wasn’t sure who this “we” was. He didn’t want to ask, in case Roland was some kind of amalgam of multiple consciousness or otherwise a plural person. That was a real concern around these parts.
Whatever the case, a day later Roland directed Donovan to a lake in a park deep in the maze of Skymoore’s government district. Donovan arrived that evening, and found the park’s sole occupant, standing regally in the gazebo beside the lake, sparkling in the light of the Pale Moon.
“Hello, Donovan Allman,” Brilliance said. “I hear you’ve been looking for me.”
“I thought it’d be easier,” he admitted. “Not a lot of unicorns in town.”
“I am only found when I want to be.”
“So, you want to be found now?”
Brilliance did not look at Donovan, but he could feel their stare. The lake was glittering not with moonlight, but with the divine glow of the unicorn. Instead of a simple image, it was as if the creature’s entire magnificent essence was reflected in the water. Donovan was not often intimidated or awed, but for the second time, he was both of these things in Brilliance’s presence.
“Yes. You’ve worked hard to gain my audience. It would be impolite not to offer it.”
“Missed you, too,” Donovan said. Brilliance did not laugh, but Donovan could sense her amusement. “You know about the Soul.”
“Have you come to tell me things I already know? That could take some time.”
“That’s the real reason you stay in Skymoore, isn’t it? Not because you’re afraid of elevators, but because you protect its Soul. Did you know it was in Odd & Ends? Is this what you meant when you said I could be a different kind of hero? Am I to be its protector?”
“Not all of my cryptic remarks have precise meanings.”
Donovan crossed his arms. “I can tell when I’m being teased.”
“I am glad to hear it.”
“Just answer me this, then. Is this Soul place my destiny? Is that what I’m meant to do here in Skymoore?”
“Destiny is a word the privileged use to justify their unearned success, Donovan Allman. I must admit I am unsurprised to hear you speak it.
“This is an opportunity, Donovan. Just as being the Suntouched was an opportunity. If you do not squander this one, Skymoore, and all of Penscarop, will be better for it.”
“Is there some coming peril, then?” Donovan asked. “Something I’ve got to use the Soul to stop? Has this got to do with the Void Lands?”
Brilliance seemed to sigh. “Let me give you one piece of advice, Donovan Allman. It is, in essence, the same advice I gave you when last we spoke. Do not believe this world is about you. Its fate very rarely rests on the shoulders of one man. You can make it better, or you can make it worse, but you will not be its savior or its destroyer.
“The Story Keeper – not Mr. Ioudek, but the one before him – said something to me once that I very much liked the sound of. ‘In the grand tale of history, you will be a single sentence, just like the rest of us. Make it a good one.’”
Donovan nodded, gazing into the silvery blue water and contemplating all that he had been told.
“Oh, and Donovan? I do not lie. The Soul will be just fine without me, but I am dreadfully frightened of that elevator.”
Donovan smiled. “May I ask just one more question?” he asked to nobody. The gazebo was empty, save for himself, and the waters of the lake were dark, the way they ought to be.