TPW: Chapter 10

Chapter 9, continued:

On Saturday morning, Mr. Hickks summoned an assembly to make the weekly announcements. Standing before a microphone next to the receptionist’s desk, Professor Wolfe at his side, Mr. Hickks declared the start of a tradition Sophie had heard about from Connor and Jack—the Herbivore-Carnivore battle.

Sophie knew that every weekend at the academy, a different event was held. Many times, these events were simple activities—like woodworking day, or the monthly art hike. But most of the time, the teachers planned competitive games.

There wasn’t a special game this weekend, but Professor Wolfe did step forward to explain Hickks Academy’s famous competition—King of the Hill—for the sake of the resident Novuses.

“There will be many games over the course of the school year. You will fight with your ‘family’ in these games, and the winners will earn points for their side. Your side is determined by your first form’s taxonomic classification, and you’ll either fight for the Carnivores or the Herbivores. At the end of the school year, points will be tallied up, and a winning group will be declared.” Professor Wolfe cleared her throat and glared out over the assembly. The competition had sounded fun when Connor and Jack talked about it…but Wolfe’s lecture did not elicit any cheering.

“For those who are new here, the competition works this way. Your family group—the students who have similar first forms as you—is your team. Each family group is led by one or two volunteers. Half of the family groups fall under the Carnivore team, and half under Herbivores. Simple. Your team tries to get as many points as it can for your side. We keep track of each family group’s points, so while you’re trying to get your side to win, you’re also trying to be the family group with the most amount of points. Prizes will be distributed accordingly.”

Professor Wolfe’s ears went back, and her tail twitched softly as she stepped away from the microphone. Mr. Hickks filled her place once more, raising the mic before continuing.

“Congratulations to the Carnivores for winning last year’s competition! I’m sure you’ve been waiting for this moment for months, so at last, in accordance with your hard-earned victory, here is your trophy!”

Wolfe used her mouth to remove a cover off one of the objects on the receptionist’s desk. With a flourish, she revealed a glittering pedestal topped with two majestic animals—a golden lion and wolf, facing each other. Studded with red and white jewels, the trophy gleamed as the brightest thing in the hall.

This time, applause broke out, as well as some cheering from the back.

Barnaby went on. “Congratulations also to last year’s Carnivore family that earned the most points—Canidae, for the third year running.”

As Wolfe revealed Canidae’s glossy wooden plaque, a wild cheer erupted, accompanied by jeers and boos that echoed obnoxiously across the hall.

The plaque was inlaid with six gold and blue animal silhouettes whose outlines shimmered like stars.

“Wonderful performance last year, Russel Adams, William Finch, Luke Mantapple, Mary Nesbit, Hayley Summers, and Mara Thomas—as well as their team leader, Pierre Blythe. Blythe, if you’d…”

Pierre was already racing out of the throng of volunteers. If Sophie hadn’t guessed before, she knew now—Pierre was a big deal everywhere in the school.

Wolfe lifted the cover off the third object, exposing a battered metal crown. Mr. Hickks grabbed it and presented it to Pierre when he arrived at the table.

“Congrats, Blythe…You get to be King of the Hill again.”

“Thank you, sir. It’s an honor.”

Pierre bowed theatrically and placed the crown upon his head. After shaking Mr. Hickks’s hand, he went to stand next to Professor Wolfe behind the table.

“And this final trophy is awarded to the winning Herbivore family—Perissodactyla! Great job, Ashley Clerk, Anayah Shepherds, Alex Bordson, Connor Jackson, Jack Jackson, Evie Marshall, Stephano Russo, Marcus Romano, and group leader Jake Sirois.”

A green and gold plaque was presented to Jake, and then Wolfe took the stand again.

“The first competition will be held next weekend. You’ll be doing a scavenger hunt, and if you don’t know what that is…make some friends.” The volunteers in the back chuckled. “As for our two new Carnivore and Herbivore representatives, don’t forget to collect sponsor votes. If you have any more questions about the competition, ask any faculty member.”

Jake and Pierre collected the trophies and returned to the back while Wolfe finished up.

“Chore assignments open in a week from now. Tomorrow in the backyard is the interest meeting for sports teams, which start meeting on Monday. Information on clubs should have been hung on your dormitory bulletin boards by now…”

The assembly lasted for half an hour. Leah insisted they weren’t always so long, but at the start of the year, there was a lot to announce.

Sophie spent the weekend tidying her things, doing laundry, and visiting intermittently with her classmates, Sarah, and Leah & Co., who often left her behind when they went into the forest. (They always insisted she break the rules and come along, but Sophie refused.)

On Sunday, Sophie rode horses again and let Pierre persuade her into helping clean the stalls. Ruby participated too, dragging hay bales in and out of the barn.

With no homework or classes, Sophie also had more alone time than she would’ve liked, accompanied by nothing but her own thoughts. Once, for a few minutes, Sophie got to speak with Ms. Ver—no word from Mr. Hickks, as usual—and all Ms. Ver could say to Sophie was to be patient. Sophie was starting to feel claustrophobic. Her mind was becoming a cage.

Chapter Ten:

Monday morning kicked off with another fight between Leah and Sarah. Sophie found them bickering in the little hall on the way downstairs. She didn’t catch what they were arguing about, but it didn’t matter. Sophie was already agitated, and she was tired of seeing the two fight all the time.

She walked up to them, feeling anger flush her own features. “Good morning. What’s going on?”

They answered at the same time, so Sophie couldn’t decipher what they’d said.

“Listen, if you’re going to argue in public, you could at least tell me what you hate so much about each other.”

Ahh. Saying that felt so good. Sophie had been thinking it for days.

Sarah and Leah looked blankly at each other. Sarah narrowed her eyes.

“Apparently we ‘just don’t get along,’” Sarah blurted venomously. She spun and stormed away.

Leah shifted awkwardly under Sophie’s expectant stare. “Sorry, Sophie. Sarah just rubs me the wrong way, that’s all.”

“I can see that,” Sophie replied.

They slowly made for the stairs. “It’s just…,” Leah muttered. “It’s like this. We got off on the wrong foot last year, because we were roommates and I didn’t want to be. So I switched. You can’t blame me.”

So it was Leah who sentenced Sarah to solitude last year. Sophie bit her lip; the feud made sense now. Of course Sarah would despise Leah for it. Knowing this, Sophie was even more grateful she had decided not to move rooms.

“So you’re only fighting because of what happened over a year ago.”

“Not true! She goes out of her way to get on my nerves.”

“…Because she’s still bitter about what happened over a year ago,” Sophie repeated. “I think if you could both put everything behind you, you’d get along better than you think.” After getting to know both of them, Sophie could imagine all of the trouble they’d get into together.

Leah shrugged. “Eh. Are you sure you want to keep bunking with her?”

Sophie nodded. “Yeah. I am.”

Leah changed the subject, and they headed to breakfast.

Invocans took an interesting turn. It began with an impromptu history lesson about the school, and Ms. Ver brought a prop to tie it all together.

“Students, this is the Heart.”

Sophie gaped at the box in the teacher’s palms. It looked exactly the same as when she had first laid eyes upon it, with its peeling finish, intricate carvings, and latch that had nearly rusted over. Sophie hadn’t expected to see it again—wouldn’t Mr. Hickks want to keep it in a safe, or a place with a little more than half-inch thick wood to protect it?

“Wow, I was not expecting that,” said Aiden as he scrutinized the battered container.

“Well, it makes sense,” Watson responded. “The disrepair of the box disguises what’s inside.”

Ms. Ver passed the box around the circle, starting with Sophie.

Sophie held it longer than she should have, recalling the night she had found it. Leah and I are the reason it’s here now. Was it just a coincidence it was in my house?

Sophie passed the Heart gently to Ira.

“Can I open it?” Ira wondered, shaking the box tentatively. Something heavy rolled within.

“Try it and see.”

“Will it let the magic out?”

“No.” Ms. Ver watched intently as Ira picked at the latch. She couldn’t get a hold of it, and even after she did, the latch wouldn’t budge.

“It’s rusted shut,” Ira complained. “How’s that for protective measures.”

Sophie’s private sentiment was that Ira had not done it the right way. Mr. Hickks had opened the box with no problems just a week ago.

“Let me try.” Kate took it, but ended up with similar results.

Then again, maybe the schoolmaster had glued it shut or something.

Once the box was returned to Ms. Ver’s lap, she explained.

“The Heart is most definitely in this box, but not even I can get to it. Because it holds an O-soh’s power, only the human with that power can manipulate this latch. If anyone stole this box, chances are zero to none that they’d get inside.”

Ms. Ver stashed the Heart inside a small brown bag. “And thank goodness for that, because once, this box was stolen.”

Golden sunlight streamed in through four proud little windows, illuminating rows of benches and long tables with a glow that melted time into a single, lasting precious moment. The fresh smell of pine pervaded the atmosphere, and although the schoolhouse smelled of sawdust, not a speck could be found out of place. A rosy warmth tinged the air—the dreamlike haze of spring—and the sweet scent of flowers wafted in through an open door.

Do you like it?” The young man stood in the center of the aisle with his hands clasped behind his back. He gestured at everything he could in the space of a few breaths, brimming with joy over every detail. In the back was a staircase. “I even put in an upstairs!” He was impatient to show the young woman everything—to share it all with her. His excitement only added to the afternoon’s golden glow.

It’s lovely,” the young woman replied, and her face was also lit by the sun, but half was lost in shadow. Her green eyes looked strange this way—they were specks of summer heat, almost too intense to exist at this time of day. One was bright while the other was shadowed and unreadable.

Come see the upstairs.”

The young man had built this place for the future. His goals had at last been reached, but at the same time, were just beginning to blossom. There was one more wish he had yet to voice, and that wish was the cause for this meeting today.

What are you going to do with this place?” The young woman’s green eyes burned with something unknown. Her gaze had always been unfathomable to the young man—an ensnaring depth, one which guarded any and every thought, every secret. Where had such eyes come from? Their parents had green eyes, but possessed no such profundity. The young man had eyes like these, but hers went deeper.

It was this obscurity that made the young woman so intriguing. Out of all the people in the world, she was the only one whose expression he could not pick apart. Yet at the same time, she was the only one who could decipher him. And she did not know this. But the young man hoped she might learn today.

“Barnaby Hickks had an older sister.”

I already told you,” Barnaby responded. “I’m going to teach! I’m going to find other people like me and show them their powers.”

The upstairs was hot. The young woman stared out a window, feeling herself burn. “I know. Then why am I here?”

You know I wouldn’t keep this from you. I wanted you to see it. And also to see if you might want to teach with me…”

They made their way to the opposite end of the room. Slowly, footfalls echoing softly. Their motion was the only indication that time passed.

“When Barnaby discovered Invocans and created the Heart, he also learned that his sister did not have the power of Invocans. But when he first built the school, this did not stop him from inviting her to run it with him.”

There’s still so much to learn about this power. You are the smartest, most observant person I know. Who knows what we could discover together.”

His sister drew her finger across the smooth top of each bench she passed by. To her brother, she seemed lost in thought, but her true intentions were caged within her.

What is that?” she asked.

On a table against the back wall, sitting on a lace cloth, was a wooden box. Its finish was glossy, gleaming gold in the light, and carvings of animals twisted and dancedacross the lid and sides.

Do you remember my letter…”

The young woman sucked in a breath. “This is your heart.”

Barnaby let out a soft laugh. “Yes, it’s what I call the ‘heart’ of Invocans…”

He lifted the box off its lacy blanket and gently undid the latch. The lid’s hinges squeaked softly as Barnaby opened it, revealing a shining green gem resting snugly in the caress of a velvet compartment.

And this holds your power.” Shecouldn’t take her eyes off of it.

Yes.”

Without this, no one can Invocans.”

Barnaby closed the lid. “It is incredible, isn’t it?”

Can I see it?”

Yes.”

“On the day that his sister came to see the newly-built school, Barnaby showed her the box with the Heart in it. But he did not realize that over the years, his sister had grown jealous of Invocans.”

The box fit perfectly into her palm. She gripped it tightly.

And then she ran.

She ran like a child fearing reproof. She ran like the deer does from wolves. She ran as though fueled by justice, and in her thoughts, she was, for jealousy had stolen her mind, and it was no longer her own.

She ran from her brother as though he was her enemy, and now he was. She ran from the past and into a new future as she burst out of the schoolhouse that sat at the foot of the hill.

The flowers mocked her flight. The precious moment had been broken, and she left her brother standing, stunned, shouting her name a hundred times. Every shattered plea she ignored was another step that could not be retracted. She ran and did not stop, because Barnaby Hickks was chasing her, and he was no longer her brother.

“…She stole the Heart and fled. Although Hickks went after her, he couldn’t catch her…”

The golden sun sank down in a display of fire and heat, turning the fields to flame. Fire fueled her flight, and his pursuit. When the fire went out, one stopped, and the other kept running into the night.

“And so, ever since the early days of the Hickks Academy, the Heart’s been missing. His sister stole it with the intent to destroy it, but she couldn’t open the box to get to it, so no harm was done. Its effect wasn’t lessened, so we knew it was somewhere on this side of the country. For a while, things were uncertain. She remained a concealed threat, but no action was ever taken to sabotage or destroy the school. Mr. Hickks never heard from her again after that…”

“How sad,” Kate murmured.

“It’s likely she went off to live a normal life, as far away from here as possible,” Ms. Ver concluded. “You five are the first students in the history of the academy to see this box in person.”

“How did you get it back?” wondered Kate breathlessly.

“A student found it very recently, by chance…They found it in their house, and that’s a mystery we’re still trying to figure out.” Sophie and Ms. Ver met gazes, and the teacher seemed to be probing Sophie’s expression. Sophie looked away, suddenly wary.

Watson tapped his foot impatiently, staring off into space. “Ms. Ver, that timeline is not compatible with what we already know. Did Mr. Hickks start the school when he was five?”

Ira burst out laughing, and Watson grinned despite himself. “I estimate it would take least five years to construct our school building. And how old does Mr. Hickks look? Seventeen, eighteen? So he’d be twelve at the start of construction, and even younger to discover Invocans.”

“Yeah, and how old was his sister?” Ira added.

“…That’s a very observant question, Watson. But there’s one aspect of the Heart that’s distorting your guess. Mr. Hickks looks younger than he is, because having his powers in the Heart slows his aging.”

“Slows his aging,” Watson repeated incredulously. “By how much?”

“Enough to confuse your guesses,” Ms. Ver replied with an air of finality. “All that being said, I thought it would be nice for you to see the Heart before starting the lesson…It’s a big deal having it back.”

Ms. Ver moved on, and the topic of the Heart’s history was not revisited. The Novuses were introduced to the focus/meditation process of Invocans, and they practiced for the last few minutes of class.

“Focus WITH your mind, ON your mind. Try to eliminate words from your head. Focus on what you feel—the reactions behind your words.”

Sophie tried, but she didn’t know what to look for inside. Even so, by the time the bell rang, her classmates were buzzing with anticipation. Invocans had started—really started! It would only be a matter of time before they were turning into animals, seeing the world through different eyes. Sophie was excited too, but her thoughts were elsewhere.

Like Watson had said, something about Ms. Ver’s story didn’t add up, and it wasn’t just the timeline. What was the name of Hickks’s sister? Where was she now? How did the Heart end up in Sophie’s home—in a couch?! Was it more than a coincidence that Sophie found it on the night her life changed? Sophie’s mind spun, but she lacked the clarity to organize her questions. Either way, something wasn’t adding up.

That afternoon, Leah convinced Sophie to join the yard games, and for the first time, Sophie experienced what it’s like to live in a neighborhood—a place abounding with other kids with a fast-paced, action-seeking atmosphere. They played Sharks ‘n Minnows, amoeba tag, and a round of capture the flag that got too rough and had to be broken up by the teachers.

Connor and Hayley assumed complete control over their side of the field, shouting orders and strategies that would have been obnoxious if they weren’t so necessary. They treated the game like a war, rallying their contesting classmates against the enemy. Leah, second in command, was the fastest runner Sophie had ever seen, darting in and out of opposing players with the grace and speed of a gazelle. Autumn Squire tried her best to add her commands to the game, but she simply wasn’t loud or bold enough to hold a candle to Connor and Hayley’s screaming.

The other team was led by older students—namely, the very tall and intimidating Scansio, Luke Mantapple, with Alex Bordson and Isaac Nevyrs at his side. They were to blame for getting the game shut down.

The Advehors were winning with a strong defense when the Scansios decided to bowl through it with everything they had. The teachers stepped in when half the Advehors and one poor, unfortunate Novus were knocked to the ground. After the Scansios cleared out, the Advehors split up and carried on.

Sophie could tell she was getting stronger from PE and the school’s wholesome meals. Still, by that point, she was tired and ready for a break. When Sophie dropped out, Leah joined her. They rested on the benches out front, and for the first time in a while, Leah and Sophie were alone together.

They sat in silence, catching their breaths. Then, Leah spoke.

“Sophie…is there any progress with your family?”

Sophie shook her head, feeling her annoyance with Mr. Hickks bubble back up. “Nobody will give me any information. I don’t think they’ve found anything.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m getting tired of being—of being caged. In the dark. They could tell me stuff, but they won’t. And Mr. Hickks is the one who wanted me to be more open. I haven’t heard from him since I got here.”

“Maybe there’s nothing to tell. It’s only been a week.”

Sophie didn’t want that to be true. She was tired of waiting. And anyway, she knew there were already secrets being kept. “I didn’t know you and I were the first students to see the Heart, Leah.”

“Oh! I never thought of it that way.” Leah pressed her head against the bark wall behind them, as though blown back by the realization. “You’re right.”

“Yeah. Ms. Ver brought the box to class and told us how it got stolen.”

“By Hickks’s sister. Right?”

Sophie nodded. “But Watson brought up the matter of the timeline. Remember when Hickks came to your house? You said he was actually twenty-something, didn’t you?”

Leah nodded. “Yeah, the Heart slows his aging. Pff, and they say Invocans isn’t magical.”

“But nobody knows why. Or how.”

“It’s something to do with…Oh. You’re right. My teachers just tell me ‘it has to do with the process of removing your power’. But yeah, they never say how.”

“So obviously there are things they aren’t telling us. And I’m sure there’s something Ms. Ver left out about the box being stolen. I could see it in her eyes. We’re the ones who found it—shouldn’t we get to know what really happened?”

Leah arched her eyebrows, grinning. “Ooh, I see you’ve been practicing some O-soh mind reading techniques.” She waggled her fingers dramatically, but Sophie was confused.

“Hm?”

“It was a joke. Well, a half joke. O-sohs are super good at reading expressions.”

“Well, I’m…” Sophie broke off, having lost her train of thought.

“No, I’m sure you weren’t making it up,” Leah amended hurriedly, as though she could read Sophie’s mind. “I know. They like to leave out a lot from that story. I’m sure there’s a lot more to tell, but…I guess Mr. Hickks probably doesn’t like to revisit that part of his past.”

Sophie let out an empty breath, analyzing the painfully blank spaces in this puzzle. If I was more like Leah, I’d just investigate everything myself. I wouldn’t wait for Mr. Hickks.What a drastic and freeing change that would be. To Sophie, it was laughable. To be fair, it was just as crazy a notion as asking Sarah and Leah to be friends.

Sophie lost herself in thought. Even Leah agreed there were things missing from the story of the stolen Heart. Maybe she was paranoid, but Sophie couldn’t help considering that maybe—just maybe—the Heart was the reason her family had been taken.

The man was looking for something in the basement, Sophie thought, thunderstruck. What if that’s it. What if the Heart is the reason for all of this?

Leah’s next words were true to character. “Y’know, we could always go clue hunting ourselves…if you wanted.”

Oh, Sophie did want. She withdrew from the rabbit hole, invigorated and unnerved by the theory. And all this from a look your teacher gave you, Sophie realized.

“Me? Leah, you know me better than that. How about this. The day you and Sarah get along is the day I learn to be adventurous.”

“What? Oh, come on…”

Despite what had been said that afternoon, Leah continued to blatantly ignore Sarah. Sure, they didn’t fight—but they wouldn’t even look at each other. This became a problem when they both wanted to be around Sophie at the same time. Sophie hoped her deal with Leah would be an incentive for her to at least try to tolerate Sarah, but no such luck.

Tuesday afternoon was the first meeting of the Cat Club, which Sophie had completely forgotten about until Sarah grabbed her arm and crowed,

“Time to go!”

Sophie dropped her pencil and stared ruefully at her homework. “Where?!”

“The meeting!”

Sarah twirled away, and Sophie rushed after her. The club meeting was being held in the woods just past the Invocans shack, where there was a grassy clearing surrounded by blackberry bushes. It wasn’t very far into the woods. Sophie could still see the school’s leafy top. She wasn’t technically breaking rules.

Along the way, Sarah made a stop at what appeared to be an outhouse. She went inside, slammed the door, and stayed there for two minutes. Sophie waited awkwardly outside and watched ants crawl up a tree.

Suddenly, a yellow wave of tingling washed over Sophie’s body. That’s the only way she could have described it—yellow and sunny and aloof, churning her insides with vibrant, raw energy that made her feel both merry and mysterious. It passed as quickly as it came, leaving Sophie shaking from adrenaline and wondering what in the world just happened.

The door to the outhouse swung open—and out came a fluffy brown tabby with golden eyes.

Okay, now I’m ready! Sarah chirped happily. Don’t tell anyone I’m doing this!

Sophie followed Sarah in a daze. The feeling was fading, but she still recognized it. The same thing had happened in Leah’s Invocans class. She’d felt others Invocans. Which meant…which meant this had to do with Invocans.

Sophie’s first inclination was to be relieved—If this was connected to Invocans, she shouldn’t worry. In fact, she bet it was common. The reason nobody else seemed to sense it was because they were used to it. Does this mean I have powers? Sophie was breathless at the thought, and went into the meeting with her head in the clouds.

Sarah and Sophie were not the first to arrive. When they stepped into the clearing, there was a tiger resting in the sunlight. The moment Sophie laid eyes on it, she immediately wanted to stop and back away slowly.

No! You’ll look like an idiot! she scolded herself. It’s just another human being. Tigers don’t even live here.

Apprehensively, Sophie followed Sarah across the clearing and took a seat on the ground. The grass made a nice cushion, and Sophie made sure that Sarah was settled between herself and the tiger.

Hello, Sarah. A feminine voice poured into Sophie’s mind like liquid silver. Who’s the human? The tiger’s tail swished softly, and her glossy pelt rippled under the sunlight. The longer Sophie stared, the less intimidated she was. The tiger wasn’t even fully grown. (With Invocans, your animal form is the same age as your human form.)

This is Sophie, my friend! I invited her to come.

Does she have a cat form? The lack of expression on the tiger’s face was eerie.

No, not yet.

Then why is she here?

She’s our guest of honor! Sophie, this is Bella, our founder.

Sophie smiled, feeling awkward. “Nice to meet you, Bella. I’m Sophie.”

Bella dipped her head. Nice to meet you too. I bet you’re a Novus this year, since I haven’t seen you around yet. You’re welcome to stay for this first meeting, I guess.

“…Thanks.”

The next to arrive was a medium, spindly-legged cat that had the markings of a cheetah and the pointed ears of a fox. It entered silently, startling Sophie when it appeared and plopped down next to Bella.

Well this is different. The serval had a deep voice and a mildly curious expression. New member?

No, Sarah brought a…guest of honor, said Bella. Sophie.

The serval regarded Sophie with a friendly air. Ah. Thinking about joining, Sophie? I’m Nathan, by the way. Bella’s brother.

“Well, I—I might join, if my first form is a cat. Nice to meet you, Nathan.”

Oh, you’re a Novus, then! Good luck, yeah, we’d love to have a new member sooner or later.

Nathan stood again and went to climb a tree. Meanwhile, a cheetah named Jett and a caracal named Amare arrived, and the meeting began.

I see Charlie is still a no-show, Bella mentioned, sounding disappointed.

Amare and Jett looked at one another. Yeah, no. He’s not joining, like, ever. He made that clear LAST year.

Meh. That’s fine. Bella’s tail drifted lazily over the grass. Anything new with you guys?

The cats discussed a wide variety of topics. Feeling awkward, Sophie kept quiet and listened, but her interest piqued when the Heart was brought up.

Hey! Did you hear that the Heart is BACK at the school?

The cats stared at Nathan.

I thought that was just a rumor, Bella tutted. Or is it? Are we starting a new rumor?

Nathan shook his head. Nonono, I can assure you, this is at least 92% reliable information. I heard it from Bordson, and you know how he gets around.

“It’s true,” Sophie piped up. “Ms. Ver brought the Heart to our class to show us today.”

It wasn’t just a model? Bella asked.

“No, it was the real thing…” Sophie trailed off as her curiosity flared up again. She shrugged and tried to hide the interest burning in her tone.

You didn’t tell me that! Sarah exclaimed.

Bella regarded Sophie coolly, ears pricked. What did she tell you?

“She told us how it was stolen. And that a student brought it back.”

A student? Who? Which one? Nathan inquired.

Sophie answered hastily. “Uhh. She didn’t say.” Something told her to keep that information quiet. They would ask too many questions trying to figure out how she found it.

And Sophie was glad she left herself out of the story. Because the next thing she knew, the Cat Club became infatuated with a newly-conceived conspiracy involving Barnaby’s sister, the Heart, and an anonymous student spy. Sophie was impressed by how certain they sounded of their conclusion, but when the topic transitioned to fan theories about movies, Sophie realized she couldn’t take the Cat Club seriously.

As Sophie faded out of the conversation again, her mind wandered back to the topic of the Heart. She realized that her own theory wasn’t too different from what the Cat Club had thought of: What if Barnaby’s sister hadn’t given up her fight against Invocans? What if she was still trying to get the Heart back? What if that’s why she stole away Sophie’s family, and Mr. Hickks knew it, and that’s why he was afraid to tell her the truth?

It all made sense, but there was just one problem: Where was the proof?

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