A white-crowned sparrow flew down and landed on Jody’s shoulder.
She stoked the bird’s back. “Sweetheart, would you be a dear and guide them to Morgan’s house?”
“Of course, darling.” The bird rubbed his beak on the woman’s cheek.
Jody opened the window for the four of us and we went outside to find Waffles.
His furry face popped out of a bush, sprinkled with snow as though he had gotten into the powdered sugar. He blinked his one eye at the sparrow. “Who’s this, now?”
The bird hopped a bit closer to Waffles. “Gavin Dedicated. Welcome to Stoneprior. And you are?”
He stepped out into the open and shook the snow from himself. We all shut our eyes as we were sprinkled with it. “Waffles Ribeye.”
I mounted Waffles, followed by Gretchen and Dichall. “Jody doesn’t have the glasses with her. Somebody else is using them. Gavin is going to show us the way.”
Gavin took to the air and flew down the street, circling when we needed to catch up. We had to squint to see the little bird against the bright, white winter sky.
Waffles trotted after him. “Are we going to steal the glasses?”
Before I could answer, Gavin flew low over us as we ran. “We’re almost there. I’m going back up to get a better vantage point.” He shot back up into the sky and vanished.
A short time later, we arrived at a collection of townhouses arranged in a rectangle that took up a whole city block. To enter the homes one walked into a courtyard in the middle, which was decorated with trees, a picnic table, and the kind of benches I’d seen in parks. A home-made swing had snow on it’s perfectly-still seat. Human feet had crushed trails in the snow to each of the doors.
Gavin landed on the armrest of a park bench and fluttered his wings to remove the surrounding snow. “Morgan lives in there. Number 11.” The bird snapped his beak in the direction of one of the townhouses, then back to us. We thanked him and he flew away.
“All right…” I squinted and saw the number 11 near a door. “Let’s find a way in and see what’s up with Morgan.”
Waffles let us down, then took off to look for a safe spot. He wound up curling up on a bare patch of ground underneath an air conditioning unit that stuck out from one of the townhouses and, after carefully checking the sky for predators, we mice headed to unit 11. After a bit of snooping around, we managed to squeeze into a hole where utility lines went in. Once we were in the walls, we found a crack near the floor that got us into Morgan’s living room. We found ourselves near the fireplace, and hid behind a small stack of logs in an iron holder. Then we heard the human walk into the room.
Morgan Stout was a slight thing, with fine, thin black hair and a haunted look to her eyes. Her limbs were thin and frail, reminding me of a spider who’d had four legs ripped off by a cruel child. She padded in her slippers to her sink for a glass of water. The house was so silent we heard every swallow.
The place was sparsely decorated, and I spotted something that made my spine tingle. I grabbed Gretchen by the shoulder and pointed to the top of the refrigerator, barely visible through a doorway, and a pair of glasses in plain sight on top of it. “Over there! Those might be them!”
Gretchen rounded on me, her voice barely above a hiss. “Shhhh! She’ll hear you!” She closed her eyes. “I’ll check…”
Emerson lifted off her back and fluttered up and behind the glasses where it hovered for a moment.
Gretchen came out of her trance, then raised her paw and Emerson flew back to us. “Yes…,” she stroked Emerson’s back before turning to us. “Yes, that’s them. I could see the magic of my veilring through the lenses.”
I nodded. “Good. Now we have to find out what Morgan is trying to do with them. It might be important.” I shot a look at Dichall and Gretchen, prepared for them to interrupt, but they were silent. I shrugged. “If it’s not, or we can help her finish with what she’s trying to do, then we’ll take them to help Vivian.”
Dichall watched Morgan, who put down her glass of water down on the table. “She’s not just going to talk about her problem to an empty house, Eve. And Waffles will freeze to death long before anything happens in here.”
I nodded. “Right. So what… wait! Jody mentioned she was worried about her brother—Josh, was it?”
Gretchen was still watching Morgan. “Hush, please. Look.” She pointed at our quarry.
Dichall and I saw Morgan walking around the room, talking into a small purple device I’d heard campers refer to as a “phone.” Her voice was so low that, even in the silence of the house we could only make out a word or two. She paced for several seconds, then set the phone on a table and walked out of the room.
“Come on!” Gretchen dashed into the room so fast that her moth came loose from her clothing and had to flap to catch up with her. We leaped up onto the table and found that the device was still bright.
Gretchen leaned over it, moved her paws around on its surface, and then beamed a smile at us. “An unlocked cell phone! These are wondrous things!” The light of the phone below her made her eyes gleam. “Just you wait!”