“All right,” said Elian’s quiet voice. “Go.” The portal activated.
Jehane stepped through the silent void between portals and emerged on the other side. The cacophony of Earth burst over her, and she closed her eyes and concentrated. The mundane noise became a hum, and the faint songs of the ordinary people vanished. An Awakened slithered in a nearby building, and another clattered down a back street. But there was no hint of the echthroi or their cambions.
She shook her head. Natalie, standing beside her and holding her hand, stepped backward, tugging Jehane along. They passed again through the silence and arrived back at the Portalry. “Nothing,” said Natalie, and they went to the next portal.
“It will be a small area,” Jehane warned Laurel.
Laurel’s eyes were wild with hope. “But they use the same emergence points. It could work. It could help.”
The Council had authorized the ‘experiment’, as long as Jehane took along a bodyguard. A handler. The news had flown through the Tower and by the time they’d worked out a schedule with Elian that would take them through the portals at the quietest hours of the night, the Portalry had filled up with observers.
They were far quieter than any crowd Jehane had ever experienced. Their shadow music sang of curiousity, anticipation and excitement, but nobody spoke, as if they feared breaking her concentration. The pressure brought by such an attempt at silence was amazing, especially given how useless it was. The shadow music of their anima was far louder than any whispered commentary could be.
“Can you focus with them here?” whispered Natalie.
“I think so.” They stepped through the next portal. This time she detected only one Awakened, and no cambions. And through the next portal, no Awakened, and barely any humans, even though she could see some moving in high windows across the street.
She slumped against the Earth side of a portal frame. “The more I focus the narrower it gets. The less I hear.”
Natalie’s grimaced. “I’ll make them all leave.”
“No, it’s not them! It’s— I’m listening for one thing. Or maybe two. And I’m not finding it, but everything else is going away. I don’t know if I’m concentrating too hard to hear anything.”
“Maybe don’t concentrate, then? What do you usually do?”
“I just… exist. I interpret what I hear but I don’t stretch for it. But my range is so small, if I don’t stretch, how will I hear them?”
Natalie squeezed her hand. “Do what you’re best at.” She hesitated. “Is ‘just existing’ what you did before the Tower found you? I’ve never wanted to bring up bad memories before…”
“I was thinking about that before, for Elian…” Jehane mumbled. She remembered.
She was ’emotionally disturbed’, but the world was insane. People walked around with monsters attached to their bodies, or with oozing sores they didn’t seem to notice. Sometimes they would tend to a mild hurt, while ignoring the gaping wound in the side of their head. And the monsters, the monsters fed upon them. When she was very small, they didn’t notice her. But that didn’t last. When she tried to fight them off, the adults who were supposed to take care of her instead held her down for them. The only salvation was hearing their approach, and learning how to hide. After she learned to listen, she spent all her time still and quiet, waiting for the awful sounds to intrude on her awareness.
Jehane breathed out gently as the local Awakened grew in her awareness, and stepped back through the portal again. Carefully she paced over to the next one. On the other side, she paused and breathed out again, letting stillness fill her.
All her memories of her childhood inevitably ended with Malachi. She thought about his shadowed eyes and his music, and the way he saw inside of her, past the quiet stillness to the child underneath. She wondered if he could see her even now, if every time she sensed him, he could sense her.
It was oddly comforting, until it faded.
With a start, she realized she was hearing Malachi himself, distantly; a fading signature moving away, and interwoven with broken piccolo heights. The wind across the water was changing, like the water was draining away and the wind was forgetting how to blow.
And then it was gone.
“What? Is there something?” Natalie asked. Jehane tilted her head, then wrapped her arms around herself. “We’ll come back,” said Natalie.
They took notes, but the echo wasn’t enough to move on. And there were more emergence points to test.
It took hours. The audience, so silent at first, began to sigh and leave. Maybe they’d hoped for a miracle from the strange girl with the same nature as Lailoken. Maybe they’d just hoped for more drama. Whatever the reason, their departure made Jehane feel as if she’d disappointed them.
But not everybody left. Natalie and Seth took turns escorting her when she refused to take a break. Laurel stayed in the Portalry until they forced Jehane to stop for the day, and the next morning, when they started the portal sequence all over again, there she was.
Hatherly lingered, too, watching closely. At one point, he offered to escort her as Seth and Natalie did, but shyness overwhelmed her and she decided she’d rather wait for the people she knew better. He was kind about that, too.
Each time she went back to the city where she’d sensed Malachi’s presence, she heard more echoes. Malachi again, and the horrible twanging discordance of Tainter, and once a whisper-soft sweetness that she thought might be Aya. But the sweetness was breath across broken strings, and she couldn’t bring herself to mention it to anybody.
The fifth time she went through, they were all there, and all nearby. She stood and listened for several moments, trying to decide if now was the time to send out the gathered forces.
Then, she felt a twist inside. She’d felt it once before, the last time she’d seen Malachi. They’d activated their mysterious device. As she listened, the city fell asleep around her.
“Now,” she said. “Here. We can find them.”